Michael Hayden Calls Clemency For Snowden 'Outrageous,' Says It Sends 'Wrong Message' To Potential Whistleblowers
from the he-and-Peter-King-should-recuse-themselves-from-the-'debate' dept
We've already seen one reaction to the New York Times' call for clemency for whistleblower Ed Snowden. That one came courtesy of the terminally-perturbed Rep. Peter King, a man who cares so much for this country that he believes Snowden should be imprisoned for "appeasing terrorists." Calling Snowden a traitor only gains you so much political traction these days, but King's in no hurry to give up his antagonistic calls for Snowden's head, even when his assertions of "terrorist appeasement" clash with his own background as a terrorist appeaser.
Another talking head who can't seem to find a single good word to say about Snowden's leaks is former NSA boss Michael Hayden. His unwavering defense of the NSA would perhaps be admirable if it didn't suggest that his position at the Chertoff Group is dependent on an absurdly healthy surveillance state and a never ending "War on Terror."
[If you're not already familiar with the Chertoff Group, this blurb from its "About" page will give you an indication of how Hayden's defense of all things NSA is intertwined with his "private sector" income:
As Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff worked closely with America’s most experienced intelligence experts and security professionals. Now a select group of them have joined him to form The Chertoff Group.Michael Hayden is just one of the former government officials employed by the Chertoff Group. Many other members are just as connected to government security and intelligence agencies. VP and co-founder Chad Sweet served as Chief of Staff in the DHS. Principal Jayson Ahern? 33 years in the US Customs and Border Protection, a division of the DHS. Richard Falkenrath? Adjunct Senior Fellow for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security at the Council on Foreign Relations. Jay Cohen? Chief of Naval Research. Michael Weatherford? Served as the Deputy Under Secretary for Cybersecurity with the DHS. Larry Castro? NSA Security Service Representative to the DHS.
The Chertoff Group provides business and government leaders with the same kind of high-level, strategic thinking and diligent execution that have kept the American homeland and its people safe since 9/11.
The list goes on and on.]
So, this is why Hayden's statements on Snowden and the leaked documents resemble those of someone still employed by the NSA. That's because, for all intents and purposes, he pretty much is. His current employer's future prosperity cannot be disentangled from the NSA and other, equally-overreaching branches of the government.
Back to the point at hand. The New York Times strongly suggested Ed Snowden be given clemency for exposing the NSA's abuses and overreach. In an interview Thursday, Hayden had this to say in response.
[M]ichael Hayden, who served as NSA director and CIA director under the last administration, called the suggestion of clemency for Snowden “outrageous.” He predicted any efforts to grant Snowden clemency would be met with significant resistance from U.S. intelligence officials. He pointed to the campaign on behalf of Jonathan Pollard, an Israeli spy who stole secrets for the Jewish state in the early 1980s when he worked as an analyst for the U.S. Navy. “There is a lot of push to give clemency for Jonathan Pollard, who did far less damage than Snowden and the U.S. intelligence community has been adamant against clemency for Pollard,” Hayden said. He added that giving clemency to Snowden would send the message to future leakers: “If you are going to do this, make sure you steal enough secrets to bargain for clemency.”The suggestion isn't that "outrageous." Snowden's leaks have prompted some normally-complacent politicians to reexamine the NSA. Several pieces of legislation have been introduced in response and the support for these crosses party lines. These excesses, which trace back even before the 9/11 attacks (but increased exponentially shortly thereafter) are finally in "danger" of being reined in. The NSA, and Michael Hayden, have always defended the agency's actions by pointing at the "rigorous oversight" of the House and Senate. The agency's defenders resent the fact that its previously (deliberately) underinformed "oversight" is now privy to the ugly reality of the NSA's programs and is attempting to (finally) curb its power.
Hayden points to Pollard's situation as being comparable when it really isn't. Pollard sold secrets to another country. Snowden gave his documents to the public. Most people can distinguish a spy from a whistleblower. Hayden, apparently, is not one of them. He follows this up by claiming granting Snowden clemency would just encourage whistleblowers to grab massive amounts of documents as bargaining chips. That claim is similarly weak.
First and foremost, this administration has sent a clear message to whistleblowers over the last five years: keep your head down and shut up. The Obama administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all other administrations combined. Anyone hoping to blow the whistle under this administration might as well grab all the documents they can because they're going to end up being prosecuted anyway, no matter what "safeguards" are built into the system. The system sets up whistleblowers to fail. Taking the "proper" path just gets you rerouted, stonewalled and finally, flushed from the system.
Hayden believes we can't show Snowden any sort of mercy without encouraging others to follow in his footsteps. He may think this hardline is a necessity to ensure the nation's security, but what it really says is that those defending this agency (and others operating in the same sphere) know there's a whole lot of deep, dark secrets they'd rather not share with the American public. This is a problem with the NSA, not a problem with Snowden or the agency's many detractors. If the agency (through mouthpieces like Gen. Keith "I can't think of another way to do this" Alexander) can't find a way to protect the nation without carving huge holes out of the public's civil liberties, it's only for a lack of trying. It's never had to find another way because it was given free rein to accomplish its goals by uninformed oversight, broad executive orders and a compliant court system.
Granting Snowden clemency would be a step in the direction of contrition -- a small admission of the government's betrayal of its constituents. If the legislators working to rein in the agency truly want to change the system, they need to persuade the executive branch to drop its plans to shoot the messenger. The problems are of the NSA's own making. Punishing the man who finally said, "this is enough" will just allow the "business as usual brigade" to increase the speed at which the surveillance state status quo is restored.