Interview with ex CIA head Michael Hayden

Hayden acknowledges some inefficiencies in the rapid post-9/11 scaling up of the intelligence community, but says the effectiveness of its efforts are reflected in the absence of an attack against the homeland. “How can you say we’ve not been successful?” he asks. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted by PBS on Aug. 19, 2010.

His view on the balancing debate:

I ended the talk to the folks at NSA by saying that all free peoples have to balance their security and their liberty. … I said: “Here’s our task. We will keep America free by making Americans feel safe again.” And we turned every possible ounce of energy toward the war on terror.

On their priorities:

I used to have a little saying I used when people said, “What are your priorities?” I’d give them a bit of government alphabet soup. I’d say “CTCPROW: Counterterrorism, counterproliferation, rest of the world.”

But the most interesting quote is easily this one:

There’s a lot talked about how [former Vice President Dick] Cheney said the famous words, “We’re going to go to the dark side,” and how that has been defined by different people in different ways. What does it mean to you in terms of what was allowed and what changed?

… At NSA, about a couple weeks into the war, we were asked, “Is there anything more we can do to defend the homeland?” [Former Director of Central Intelligence George] Tenet had asked me. I said, “George, not inside the current set of guidance.” So he said, “Well, what could you do more if the guidance were different?” And I laid out a certain series of things, and somewhat to my surprise, a year or two later, he says, “Come on down to the White House.” And so we began a conversation with the vice president and then with the president saying that, “Here are some additional things we could do, but we cannot do them because we do not currently have authority to do them.”

That was the basis of the evolution of what became the Terrorist Surveillance Program and the program that NSA used then to attempt to intercept Al Qaeda-related communications into and out of the United States. Frankly, I find it to be a very successful program. There were five IGs [inspector generals] that completed a report [PDF] just this past summer on it; there was no abuse. It was focused on what it was designed to do. But it clearly was atypical when it came to where the traditional boundaries of the National Security Agency had been when it came to communications, one end of which was in the United States. That was a change. I’m quite comfortable with the change. The Constitution defends all of us against unreasonable search and seizure. What constitutes reasonableness depends upon threat. …

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