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Eavesdropped on Amtrak: Ex-NSA Chief Gets Taste of Own Medicine
Michael Hayden, former director of US surveillance agency, gets busted giving off-the-record interview by tweeting neighbor
(Updated below) Former head of the National Security Agency Michael Hayden is making headlines for an interview he gave on Thursday, but not at all in the manner he intended.
Fellow passenger and former political activist Tom Mattzie, on the other hand, had no intention of making the evening news, but that's exactly what happened after he recognized Hayden, seated behind him, and overheard him offering up thoughts on the Obama administration regarding the ongoing revelations about the NSA.
Realizing the opportunity, Mattzie did what any technologically savvy public citizen might do: he started tweeting.
On Acela listening to former NSA spy boss Michael Hayden give "off record" interviews. I feel like I'm in the NSA. Except I'm in public.— Tom Matzzie (@tommatzzie) October 24, 2013
As the Guardian relates the ironic story of the former spy chief who got spied upon:
Hayden ended up on the wrong end of a surveillance stakeout on Thursday afternoon when, while riding a commuter train, he was overheard "disparaging" the Obama administration. The over-hearer was a private citizen – Tom Matzzie, an entrepreneur who previously worked for MoveOn.org and John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign.
Hayden was aboard an Acela train outside Philadelphia and talking by phone with a reporter when Matzzie, who was sitting nearby, recognized him. Matzzie heard Hayden insist to the reporter that he be quoted anonymously, as a "former senior administration official".
Then Matzzie began live-tweeting as the nation's former top spy badmouthed the Obama administration, apparently in connection with the revelation hours earlier that NSA had monitored the phone calls of at least 35 world leaders' telephone lines.
The Huffington Post adds:
Matzzie told HuffPost that during the fateful Acela ride, he couldn't believe what he was hearing, but Hayden "just kept on saying stuff."
"He talked about Obama's BlackBerry a bunch when he was talking about foreign leaders," Matzzie recalled.
President Barack Obama famously uses a BlackBerry to make phone calls -- not the more popular iPhone, because of security concerns. Phone tapping is front and center right now because of the revelation that the NSA spied on 35 world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
"He was suggesting that the administration should have known that this was going on, the foreign intelligence eavesdropping," Matzzie alleged Hayden said on the train. "He was suggesting to reporters that the administration was naive. It reminded me of that scene from 'A Few Good Men' -- 'You can't handle the truth.' He was casting himself as Colonel Jessep."
The tweets themselves, however, tell the story best:
Former NSA spy boss Michael Hayden on Acela behind me blabbing "on background as a former senior admin official" Sounds defensive.— Tom Matzzie (@tommatzzie) October 24, 2013
Hayden was bragging about rendition and black sites a minute ago.— Tom Matzzie (@tommatzzie) October 24, 2013
Michael Hayden on Acela giving reporters disparaging quotes about admin. "Remember, just refer as former senior admin" #exNSAneedsadayjob— Tom Matzzie (@tommatzzie) October 24, 2013
On Acela: Michael Hayden was talking to Massimo Calabresi at TIME I am pretty sure. Does he tweet?— Tom Matzzie (@tommatzzie) October 24, 2013
On Acela: former NSA spy boss Michael Hayden just ended last of handful of interviews bashing admin.— Tom Matzzie (@tommatzzie) October 24, 2013
On Acela: phone ringing. I think the jig is up. Maybe somebody is telling him I'm here. Do I hide?— Tom Matzzie (@tommatzzie) October 24, 2013
New call. I am totally busted I think.— Tom Matzzie (@tommatzzie) October 24, 2013
I think I'm safe. Just passed Philly. No rendition yet. Do I have the balls to ask him for a photo? #haydenacela— Tom Matzzie (@tommatzzie) October 24, 2013
On Acela: Hayden's comments to press were clearly about NSA spying on foreign allies. #haydenacela— Tom Matzzie (@tommatzzie) October 24, 2013
And the clinchers:
Me and Steeler fan Michael Hayden. pic.twitter.com/vOmr6RIMPe— Tom Matzzie (@tommatzzie) October 24, 2013
I just had a very nice conversation with Michael Hayden. He was a gentleman and we disagree.— Tom Matzzie (@tommatzzie) October 24, 2013
This email interview with New York Magazine is worth adding as well:
So you’re on the train, and you just start overhearing this private-sounding conversation about national security stuff, or what? How did this start?
He was talking very loudly and using words like "rendition" and "black sites." My ears perked up. At first I didn't recognize him. Then I thought he was James Clapper. Then I realized he was Michael Hayden.
What motivated you to blow Hayden’s cover? You’re a former MoveOn guy -- was this a protest or political statement of some kind? Or was it more just that it was a funny thing to do?
What cover? He was 7-8 feet away talking very loudly. I thought the former head of NSA and a retired general attacking the president on background was lame. Say it in a book like everyone else.
Did you hesitate at all about about whether you should do it?
What kinds of things was Hayden talking about? Was is super-duper-secret, or just kind of secret?
Beats me. It had the tone of "hey reporter I'm talking to you in confidence."
Who was he criticizing in particular?
The president and his blackberry.
It’s surprising that Hayden would be having such a sensitive conversation on a crowded train. Could everyone else hear it too?
It was loud. He was three seats away from me. My seatmates and I discussed it.
Do you think it’s possible that Hayden wanted to be overheard? That’s what would happen in Homeland.
I have no idea. I mostly watch Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood with my kid.
So after his conversations are over, Hayden gets a phone call from his office informing him that you’ve been tweeting about him. Were you listening as this phone call happened? Were you getting nervous?
Yes. I was nervous. The dude approved waterboarding.
What did Hayden say when he approached you?
"So, would you like a real interview?"
Did he at any point joke about droning you or putting poison in your soup or something?
No. He was a gentleman.
Even if he was being outwardly calm and friendly, did it seem like he was seething, deep down, underneath?
Maybe a little nervous. Not seething. I feel a little sorry for him.
Are you paranoid right now? Did you go home and clear your search history?
No. Email login didn't work for a minute. But that was just ALL CAPS.
Are you a hero or a traitor?
Is that really a question?