June 17th, 2013
10:48 AM ET

Hayden explains NSA 'meta data program'

"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Fareed speaks with former National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden about the recent revelations of former CIA contractor Edward Snowden about alleged NSA activity.

Tell me what your reaction is to the revelations of Edward Snowden.

Well, I'm very disappointed that these legitimately secret things have been pushed into the public domain where they help our enemy and punish our friends overseas and our friends in corporate America. But in terms of what the agency is doing, frankly, Fareed, I think it's what the nation expects the agency to be doing – to be defending the United States while still respecting American law and American values.

So I want to ask you, is the NSA listening in on phone calls that Americans make?

No, it's not. Unless, of course, it's got a very specific, individualized FISA warrant, which has been the situation for more than three decades. In terms of the one program which I'll just call the meta data program, the one that the FISA order to Verizon seemed to reveal, this is indeed about meta data. It's about fact of call. NSA is getting, from the telecom providers, records that they create for their own purposes.  These are essentially billing records that the telecom providers are sharing with the NSA.

Fareed, NSA puts them in a very large database, and then sits and waits until it has…an arguable proposition that a reasonable man would look at and say, yes, this is correct, to ask that database a question. Let me give you concrete example. We raid a safe haven somewhere in Yemen. We pick up a cell phone we've never seen before.  There's pocket litter in the possession of the individual clearly indicating he's affiliated with al Qaeda, he's a terrorist. We take that new phone number and we simply ask that database, does this phone number show up in connection with any of the phone numbers, any of the phoning events that we have gathered here? And if, for example, a phone number in the Bronx kind of raises its hand and says, well, yes, I've been in contact with that phone regularly for the past three months, we then get to ask the phone in the Bronx, who else do you call? At which point, Fareed, we're done in terms of what this program authorizes. If we want to do anything more with that domestic U.S. number, we've got to go back to the court.

So would it be fair to describe this as, as I've seen somebody do, as the meta data program collecting data in a way that is on the outside of an envelope – who you wrote to, what the return address was, but nothing about what's inside the envelope?

No, that's absolutely correct.  And that's almost a perfect analogy. It’s the outside of the envelope. And, by the way, the Supreme Court ruled back in 1979 that that outside of the envelope information, the meta data, is not protected by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. There isn’t a reasonable expectation of privacy when it comes to that information.

Do you feel as though, when you were at NSA or watching when you were at CIA, looking at these things, that there were areas where you wouldn't go, even though you felt as though it might be useful because of privacy concerns? In other words, did the privacy wall come up and you guys would say, well, you know, we can do that to find this kind of data, but that would be too much?

Fareed, the first thing you have to understand, that when it comes to privacy, what CIA, NSA – all the elements of the American intelligence community are concerned with – is the privacy of U.S. persons, which I think you know is a group a bit larger than just American citizens. It includes everyone in the United States and U.S. citizens no matter where they are in the world. Those are the people whose privacy is protected by the American Constitution. And that’s the guiding light. That’s the guidepost for American intelligence collection.

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Topics: Spying • Terrorism • United States

soundoff (23 Responses)
  1. matslats

    Oops when you said the NSA is not listening, it was disingenuous not to mention the reciprocal agreement with UK where each taps the data of the other country and then shares it back with the secret serivces of that country. 'Not listening' is a LIE in all but legalese.
    Fareed you are amplifying LIES. you are not a journalist but a propagandist.

    June 17, 2013 at 11:07 am |
    • Sean B.

      No where did he say the NSA isn't listening, he asked the damn question. Fareed doesn't amplify propaganda, but you sure amplify your crazy.

      June 17, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
  2. Benedict

    Americans are always paranoid when it comes to their relationship with the Federal arm of government. Snowden's revelations has helped increase this fear,rational or not !!!.

    June 17, 2013 at 11:28 am |
  3. Brian Merritt

    How about the Boston marathon bombers? There's a reason the Big Brother sympathizers have suddenly developed amnesia and failed to mention these brothers. The previously hush-hush surveillance programs they've been insisting are so absolutely, positively necessary to find people like this didn't find them, did they?

    The brothers had cellphones and used the internet often, leaving an incriminating footprint in the electronic ether. They visited the website Inspire, al-Qaida's online trade magazine in getting directions on how to build the pressure cooker bombs. The cops only found that out when the younger brother got out of the boat and told them so. It appears that American intelligence, cyber or otherwise, couldn't connect the digital dots.

    June 17, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
  4. Paul Tiffany

    The interview at one key point came across as exceptionally naïve if not insulting to the intelligence of millions of lay people. Comparing the NSA surveillance to that of an envelope in the mail was a false metaphor since most everyone knows that all the phone numbers in the country if not the world from the billing systems of the telecoms could be searched in a second in a PC database and a reverse lookup on the InterNet determine the name, address and other demographics associated with every phone number. Also, knowing who was contacted and when to the second and the duration of the calls is information most people would consider private.

    So, why does the NSA spend hundreds of billions on complex surveillance systems and why are they preparing to increase their storage capacity by a hundred to the tune of tens of billions of dollars when all the phone numbers in the world could easily be stored on a single PC?

    The NSA is also lying when it claims that the telecoms are not "capable" of storing all this billing information. Not only is that not true, the telecoms encourage their customers to utilize online billing with the promise that the telecoms will keep all this information for years. There are a lot of lies here.

    Then, there's the question of the "extensive oversight", which upon examination does not exist since only a few in Congress are briefed. In the very rare instances where the intelligence agencies go to the FISA Court – 1,789 instances in 2012 – the Court with no advocates for the other side has always rubber stamped the approvals to wiretap conversations.

    The NSA has sent tens of thousands of requests to all of the InterNet Service Providers for all of the InterNet records for tens of thosands of people. Since these requests did not go through the FISA Court, what legal authorization was used?

    June 17, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
  5. JAL


    June 17, 2013 at 7:37 pm |
  6. j. von hettlingen

    Curiosity is as ancient as mankind! As long as people as individuals and nation states as aggregates are keen to safeguard their interests, they all want to know if they are under threat from within and outside. So spying has become a vice like lying. Since the 9/11, US authorities resort to measures that infringe on the civil liberties of their citizens. It's time to have a real public debate on them.

    June 18, 2013 at 7:11 am |
  7. Joseph McCarthy

    What would one expect this bozo Michael Hayden to say? Of course he's going to defend this obscene program by the NSA! It would be great if these clowns went after c hild p ornographers and ID thieves and others who threaten society on the whole, but no! They only want anti war dissidents like us!

    June 18, 2013 at 7:49 am |
  8. Richard Dreiling

    They are stealing trade secrets, not trying to protect us. So much for ancient secret societies... sorry guys it's not secret anymore, your leaders really really needed to know. An ISP operator (not politicians) have access to all your not-secret communications. Any leader that agrees with this underhanded spying, come forward and say so, you will see if it matters next election.

    June 18, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
  9. Mark

    How many child p ornographers and human traffickers did these bozos stop? Zero!!!!! These disgusting practices go on and on and.........

    June 18, 2013 at 6:00 pm |
  10. Brett Champion

    The problem isn't that the NSA is doing what it's doing. The problem is that it's doing it in secret without public oversight. The FISA courts are a joke, and I doubt the president even knows the real extent of what the NSA is doing. It's time to shine a light on what the NSA is doing.

    June 19, 2013 at 8:54 am |
  11. Queen Sheeba

    "...have been pushed into the public domain where they help punish... our friends in corporate America."

    Ha Ha! What a joke... This should be a quote of the week!

    Come on Fareed,

    "Wake up, Neo!"

    June 19, 2013 at 10:46 am |
  12. Samuel R. Kephart

    Want the REAL story about what the NSA is doing with your life and communications, read Freedom on the Rocks – Tyranny versus Terrorism:


    June 19, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
  13. stalkingnightmare

    I am not sure who is violating my privacy. One thing I know is some of the big corporations have access to these surveillance programs . They can basically control or even ruin someone's life.
    It is very unfortunate no one oversee these programs.
    I have my own experience. I know I am not the only one who is going through this.



    June 19, 2013 at 6:05 pm |
  14. Outraged

    What a monkey. Privacy over all!. Lies, half-truths and smears, that's all we get for our $billions

    June 21, 2013 at 10:51 am |
  15. Frank

    So what happened to those 12 million iPhone account names and addresses found on that FBI laptop awhile back? Are we supposed to believe that 12 million FISA warrants were issues? There's a really big story here, and it's got nothing to do with Snowden.

    June 26, 2013 at 6:33 pm |
  16. asdff

    Convenient how everyone forgets the NSA has had a backdoor in Windows since Windows 95.

    June 30, 2013 at 12:07 am |
  17. Glynis Kaili

    I just added this site to my feed reader, great stuff. Can not get enough!


    December 18, 2020 at 3:44 pm |
  18. Sara Beisel

    Music started playing as soon as I opened up this blog, so frustrating!


    December 27, 2020 at 1:42 pm |
  19. Jamel Kryst

    Would you be occupied with exchanging hyperlinks?


    January 4, 2021 at 2:42 am |

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