Former NSA head Michael Hayden hasn't been shy about offering his opinion on the Snowden leaks. Not being in a position where his opinion might damage the government's reputation has certainly encouraged him to speak his mind. This has led to some truly bizarre assertions from the former spy-in-chief, including his belief that Snowden is headed down the path to alcoholism, his supporters are mainly internet shut-ins and that state secrecy is just like personal privacy and worthy of the same protections.
Over the weekend, Hayden appeared on Face the Nation, where he defended the NSA's activities and further derided Ed Snowden. [Full transcript here with a bundled autoplay video for no conceivable reason.] Hayden has apparently "upgraded" his views on Snowden (although, I'm more inclined to believe they've never changed) based on recent developments.
HAYDEN: Well, I used to say he was a defector, you know, and there's a history of defection -- actually, there's a history of defection to Moscow, and that he seems to be part of that stream. I'm now, kind of, drifting in the direction of perhaps more harsh language.
GARRETT: Such as?
HAYDEN: Such as "traitor."
Hayden's "drift" is based on a misconception that spread throughout most of the media in recent weeks.
HAYDEN: Well, in the past two weeks, in open letters to the German and the Brazilian government, he has offered to reveal more American secrets to those governments in return for something -- and in return was for asylum. I think there's an English word that describes selling American secrets to another government, and I do think it's treason.
Except that's not what Snowden actually said
. That's just how it was portrayed, but Snowden never made a conditional offer. He was simply looking for permanent asylum and offering nothing in exchange -- just presenting the details of his current situation. The press took this and presented it as Snowden offering to help spy on the US or divulge secret documents in exchange for asylum. Hayden bought it. No doubt the NSA believes it as well. But Hayden cites this specifically as why he believes Snowden is a traitor -- and it's for something Snowden not only hasn't
done, but for something he never even offered
Making this ridiculous assertion even more ridiculous is the odd synergy of CBS and its sponsorship deals. The official CBS News Twitter account offered up a clip of Hayden calling Snowden a traitor
as a "Face the Nation Moment" -- sponsored by none other than Microsoft.
I'm sure this is the last (mostly inadvertent) tie-in the software giant hoped to see rolling out to CBS News' 2.8 million followers. Microsoft has tried hard to distance itself from the image of "willing surveillance participant" in the past several weeks. It has issued statements
about valuing customer privacy even as news has surfaced
about it handing over pre-encryption access
to the agency for several of its most popular products, as well as newer acquisitions like Skype.
But the way CBS pitches it, the message comes across as Microsoft supporting Hayden's claims that Snowden is a traitor. Unfortunate to be sure, but not entirely unbelievable.