General Michael Hayden, former head of the CIA and the former NSA chief who launched illegal, warrantless domestic spying programs, said in an interview that none of the NSA's dragnet surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden was wrong, and that the keys to the agency's effectiveness are power and secrecy.
Speaking to USA Today's Susan Page, Hayden rejected a recommendation by the White House-appointed NSA review panel that the NSA should obtain individual court orders to search the data held by the NSA, saying it didn't make sense in "a post-9/11 world," and that the system orchestrated under Bush was "far more agile."
Hayden said that "since there have been no abuses" of the NSA's surveillance "and almost all the court decisions on this program have held that it's constitutional, I really don't know what problem we're trying to solve by changing how we do this."
It's only under discussion now, Hayden said, because "somebody stirred up the crowd," referring to the NSA whistleblower.
As for the panel's recommendation that the White House would have to approve of spying on foreign leaders, Hayden said it would "slow things down" and be "a bit cumbersome."
He brushed off the panel's suggestion of privacy protections for non-citizens abroad, emphasizing that the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution "is not an international treaty."
Asked by Page if the leaks showed any wrongdoing by the NSA, Hayden replied, "No, I really don't. "
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When he was director of the NSA, Hayden told Page, he said he "was fond of saying, 'Look, there's only two things we need to be able to do our job. We need to be powerful, and we need to be secret. And we exist inside of a political culture that frankly just trusts only two things—power and secrecy.'"
Rather than accepting the panel's recommendations, "President Obama is going to need to use some of his personal and political capital to keep doing these things," Hayden said.
As for the label Hayden would put on Snowden, he said he had been thinking of him as a defector but now he was "drifting" toward calling him a traitor, and said that his leaks represent "the most serious hemorrhaging of American secrets in the history of the American republic." Granting the whistleblower amnesty would be like "negotiating with terrorists," he said.
Hayden made similar comments about Snowden during an interview with Face the Nation on Sunday, suggesting the whistleblower was a traitor, and falsely saying that Snowden had offered documents to other countries in exchange for asylum.
Video of the full USA Today interview is below: