• United States



Former CIA, NSA director sounds off on PRISM, spying tools

Jul 01, 20135 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

Former NSA, CIA director Gen Hayden said Snowden's leaks highlight 'balance between privacy and security' debate, but law professors call NSA mass surveillance 'criminal.'

The Snowden leaks have “launched a national debate about the balance between privacy and security,” according to General Michael Hayden, former CIA and NSA director. “I am convinced the more the American people know exactly what it is we are doing in this balance between privacy and security, the more they know the more comfortable they will feel.” On CBS’s Face The Nation, Hayden told Bob Schieffer, “So, frankly, I think we ought to be doing a bit more to explain what it is we’re doing, why, and the very tight safeguards under which we’re operating.”

Regarding NSA spying on the European Union, and the “furious” EU reactions—including the accusation that the U.S. is using Cold War tactics on its allies, Hayden made three points.

Number one: The United States does conduct espionage. Number two: Our Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans’ privacy, is not an international treaty. And, number three: Any European who wants to go out and rent their garments with regard to international espionage should look first and find out what their own governments are doing.

Schieffer asked if the U.S. was slurping “something like a billion e-mails a month from Germany,” but Hayden said he had “no idea” before adding, “the internet actually lacks geography.” Hayden advised us not to draw “any immediate conclusions with regard to some of those numbers that have been put out there as to who’s being targeted and who isn’t.”

Yet The Guardian reported some staggering numbers such as one trillion metadata records collected by the NSA at the end of 2012. According to leaked documents from the NSA’s secret Special Source Operations (SSO), a “One-End Foreign (1EF)” solution, codenamed EvilOlive, allows “more than 75% of the traffic to pass through the filter.” Another NSA program, codenamed ShellTrumpet, “processed its One Trillionth metadata record” on December 31, 2012.

Almost half of those trillion pieces of internet metadata were processed in 2012, the document detailed: “though it took five years to get to the one trillion mark, almost half of this volume was processed in this calendar year.”

Even more secret surveillance and data collection systems, codenamed MoonLightPath and Spinneret, “are planned to be added by September 2013.”

Add to that the comments made by Glenn Greenwald in a Socialism Conference speech delivered via Skype. He was discussing another leaked NSA document from Snowden that allows the NSA to “redirect into its repositories one billion cell phone calls every single day.” Greenwald said the full revelation about that NSA technology is “coming soon,” adding that it’s a “globalized system designed to destroy all privacy.

Flash forward to Face The Nation where Hayden said:

In an ideal world I keep all of this secret because any of it that I make public slices some of my operational advantage away from me. But here’s what I’ve learned heading up both NSA and CIA. You may be able to do one thing one-off based upon narrow legalness and the President’s authorization, but democracies like ours don’t get to do something over a long period of time without national consensus. So I’m willing to shave points off of my operational effectiveness in order to make the American people a bit more comfortable about what it is we’re doing otherwise the American people won’t let us do it in the first place.

For reasons that escape me, the American public as a whole is not worked up into a frenzy over the mass and invasive NSA surveillance exposed by Snowden’s leaks. Several “polls” seem to indicate that many Americans are “fine” with it, so long as it is stopping terrorism. But it’s not OK, as law professors Jennifer Stisa Granick and Christopher Jon Sprigman wrote in the New York Times. Regarding the NSA’s collection of Americans’ phone calls and other electronic communications, they said:

The two programs violate both the letter and the spirit of federal law. No statute explicitly authorizes mass surveillance. Through a series of legal contortions, the Obama administration has argued that Congress, since 9/11, intended to implicitly authorize mass surveillance. But this strategy mostly consists of wordplay, fear-mongering and a highly selective reading of the law. Americans deserve better from the White House – and from President Obama, who has seemingly forgotten the constitutional law he once taught.

It’s an excellent piece that I highly suggest you should read, pointing out that “we may never know all the details of mass surveillance programs” that “make a mockery of the government’s professed concern with protecting Americans’ privacy. It’s time to call the NSA’s mass surveillance programs what they are: criminal.”

Like this? Here’s more posts:

  • You might be a terrorist if…you complain about your tap water
  • Breaking down latest leaked PRISM slides claiming U.S. ‘bugged EU offices’
  • Project Chess helped NSA snoop on your Skype communications
  • NSA whistleblower Snowden: Even innocent Americans are ‘being watched and recorded’
  • It’s hitting the fan: Anger mounts over PRISM, NSA spying scandals
  • Reporters threatened with CFAA, labeled hackers for finding security hole
  • Hacking and attacking automated homes
  • Schools scan students’ irises, then notify parents of opt out choice afterward
  • Rule of 7 applied to domestic surveillance

Follow me on Twitter @PrivacyFanatic

ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.