Gen. Michael V. Hayden, a former director of the National Security Agency and the CIA during the last decade, said Thursday that leaks about U.S. secret spying programs will be damaging but may be the price of living in a democracy.
“We don’t get to anything for a long period of time without broad political support and public acceptance,” the retired general told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “So in this case, I actually think we’re going to have to take a little bit of operational loss, to make more public exactly what it is we’re doing and not doing, and why it has been effective in protecting the United States.”
He said the programs have helped the U.S. government thwart numerous attacks.
Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old analyst with access to top-secret information, shocked Washington last week by disclosing that the NSA keeps phone call logs and collects Internet data from foreigners through a hyper-secret program known as Prism.
Gen. Hayden criticized early reporting on the recently disclosed programs, particularly the descriptions of Prism. For instance, he said the government may seek chatroom dialog between suspected terrorists in Pakistan and Yemen only because it is hosted on a server in the United States.
“This is not about going after Americans’ information,” he told MSNBC. “It’s about going after foreign information that is resident, that is located, in the United States.”
He said the programs are an outgrowth of policy tweaks under former President George W. Bush in 2006 and 2008.
“Essentially, what we’re doing now was established within the Bush administration,” he said. “President Obama … continued this program, and somewhat to his credit, widened the circle of the number of legislators up on Capitol Hill who had direct access to what NSA was doing.”