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Gmail is the preferred email service of terrorists, claims former NSA chief

Sep 16, 20134 mins
Data and Information SecurityEmail ClientsGovernment

While standing on a church pulpit to talk about the 'tension between security and liberty,' former NSA and CIA chief Michael Hayden claimed that terrorists love Gmail.

You can learn all sorts of moral lessons if you attend church, but the person behind the pulpit doesn’t usually preach about Gmail-loving terrorists. Yet former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden did exactly that at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. The Washington Post reported that Hayden stood on the pulpit and claimed:

“Gmail is the preferred Internet service provider of terrorists worldwide,” presumably meaning online service rather than the actual provider of Internet service. He added: “I don’t think you’re going to see that in a Google commercial, but it’s free, it’s ubiquitous, so of course it is.”

Hayden ran the NSA during President Bush’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program, but during a profile of NSA Chief General Keith Alexander, “the cowboy of the NSA,” it was revealed that Hayden was worried that Alexander didn’t comprehend what surveillance could and could not be done legally. But since the Snowden leaks, Hayden has been trying to put out fires caused when the public learned about secret NSA surveillance. At one point, during a cybersecurity speech at the Bipartisan Policy Center, Hayden likened people valuing privacy to a digital al-Qaida. He called whistleblower Edward “Snowden supporters and privacy proponents ‘nihilists, anarchists… twentysomethings who haven’t talked to the opposite sex in five or six years’.”

During the CBS show Face the Nation, Hayden claimed that leaks “launched a national debate about the balance between privacy and security.” At that time, he was “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.” Along those lines, Hayden spoke about “the tension between security and liberty” during an adult education forum at St. John’s on Sunday.

Asked whether the United States’s promiscuous surveillance was setting a harmful example for other nations, Hayden suggested that the Internet’s origins in the United States partially justifies the NSA’s conduct. If the Web lasts another 500 years, he said, it may be the thing the United States is remembered for “the way the Romans are remembered for their roads.”

“We built it here, and it was quintessentially American,” he said, adding that partially due to that, much of traffic goes through American servers where the government “takes a picture of it for intelligence purposes.”

That type of comment won’t help allay the surveillance fears of Snowden supporters’ whom Hayden previously summed up as “folks who are very committed to transparency and global transparency and the global web, kind of ungoverned and free.”

But Hayden is no more a fan of Snowden supporters than he is of online anonymity. According to The Post, Hayden said, “The problem I have with the Internet is that it’s anonymous.” He asked “is our vision of the World Wide Web the global digital commons — at this point you should see butterflies flying here and soft background meadow-like music — or a global free fire zone?”

Whether or not you see digital butterflies flying when you think of the web, you probably have a Gmail account. Most netizens do, but it seems likely that most of us are not terrorists. Maybe Microsoft can find a way to capitalize on Hayden’s comment in its next anti-Gmail Scroogled campaign…or maybe not since is also a free email service.

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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.