Former NSA Chief Says Administration Should Ignore The Public And Leave The NSA Alone
from the the-public-is-too-stupid-to-know-what's-good-for-it dept
Former NSA head Michael Hayden's (presumably unpaid) goodwill tour on behalf of the Agency-Most-Likely-To-Go-Rogue continues. Following up a memorable interview with CBS News in which he called Ed Snowden a "traitor" and ignored questions about the legality of installing exploits in computer hardware and pushing for adoption of compromised encryption methods, Hayden stopped in to speak with USA Today.
In this particular spin attempt, Hayden spoke up against the recommendations of the administration's task force charged with reviewing the NSA's activities and programs. Hayden's opposition to the recommendations is far less surprising than the recommendations themselves, which were surprisingly substantive.
Hayden first goes wrong when explaining why the NSA shouldn't have to change.
"Right now, since there have been no abuses and almost all the court decisions on this program have held that it's constitutional, I really don't know what problem we're trying to solve by changing how we do this," he said, saying the debate was sparked after "somebody stirred up the crowd." That's a reference to Snowden, who was granted asylum in Russia.Saying there have been "no abuses" is clearly untrue. The agency itself has admitted to several abuses (although the NSA frames them as errors, rather than deliberate misuse of the system) and others have leaked information on others the agency hasn't been particularly forthcoming about. (LOVEINT, anyone?)
Hayden also applies a bit of misdirection by narrowing the focus to the Section 215 program. There are many other programs that are at least as dubious in terms of constitutionality. But this one is the safe pick -- the one that relies on the Third Party Doctrine and the fact that it's been almost impossible until just recently for anyone to be granted standing to bring a lawsuit against the government for civil liberties violations committed by the agency.
Lastly, trying to dismiss Snowden as a rabble rouser makes the implicit suggestion that everything the NSA does is perfectly normal, legal and no big deal. If it "looks bad," it's only because a former analyst somehow made it look bad by exposing the inner workings. In other words, the problem isn't the agency's programs -- it's the easily-ired public.
And as far as dealing with the public's reaction to these leaks goes, Hayden's suggestion to the administration is to ignore the outrage and do what's "right" (in the eyes of the agency).
"Here I think it's going to require some political courage," said Hayden, 68, a retired Air Force general whose service in the nation's top intelligence posts gives him particular standing. "Frankly, the president is going to have to use some of his personal and political capital to keep doing these things..."According to Hayden, the NSA is right and the public is wrong, even if it doesn't realize it. Obama and those that follow him will just need to trust the agency and not worry too much about the public's opinion. Hayden says the government needs to make the tough decision to protect the surveillance status quo. If the administration chooses to roll things back, and another 9/11 occurs because of this (this is very specious reasoning), rescinding these restrictions will suddenly poll extremely well, at least according to Hayden.
"President Obama now has the burden of simply doing the right thing […] And I think some of the right things with regard to the commission's recommendations are not the popular things. They may not poll real well right now. They'll poll damn well after the next attack, all right?"
But that's an assumption that only the NSA defenders make. Somehow they've arrived at the conclusion that the public will always clamor for increased security and fewer civil liberties in the wake of a terrorist attack. This is based on the prevailing perception of the public's attitude shortly after the 9/11 attacks. But the recent attack in Boston didn't result in citizens asking for more cameras, cops and pervasive surveillance. In fact, many Bostonians were shocked that the city was so quick to effectively put the city under martial law and perform house-to-house searches for the one of the suspects. The only people asking for more government intrusion were government officials and law enforcement heads already prone to pushing for greater power and expanded surveillance.
Moving on from these baffling assertions, Hayden then rejects nearly every other recommendation from the presidential commission. He claims Section 215 data would be more "secure" and "private" if stored by the NSA, rather than held by private companies. He also stated the agency shouldn't be forced to seek court orders before querying the collection, saying this would "reverse" changes made post-9/11. This, of course, ignores the fact that the agency had to do exactly that (court orders for searching the database) after it screwed up the Section 215 program so thoroughly FISC judge Reggie Walton nearly shut the whole thing down.
Hayden, like many NSA defenders, increasingly appears to be living in an alternate reality where the leaks and documents freed via lawsuits against the government haven't exposed a great deal of agency abuse and misuse of its power and data collections. Each successive revelation furthers the notion that the agency has used several decades of darkness to insert itself into worldwide communications in ways that no one charged with oversight would have reasonably imagined. This makes all the claims about legality and protecting the country ring hollow. The agency's capabilities far surpass what's necessary to achieve its aims, and exceed what any rational person would believe to be protected by law.