Former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Pete Hoekstra and ex-CIA Director Gen. Michael V. Hayden, in separate interviews with Newsmax on Thursday, dismissed reports of National Security Agency eavesdropping on friendly leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as insignificant and unsurprising.
"I call it 'much ado about nothing,'" said Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican, who was chairman of the House Intelligence panel from 2004-2006. "You have to be really naive to believe that this does not go on and that countries that are U.S. allies — among them Germany and France — do not do the same type of intelligence gathering on their counterparts here."
Hoekstra recalled how, while chairman of the Intelligence Committee, he would fly to Paris for meetings on Air France and be informed by U.S. government officials that "the section I was flying in was bugged."
"Our people also told me to expect that conversations I had with French government officials would be wiretapped," Hoekstra told Newsmax.
"Certainly, someone like Chancellor Merkel or [former French President Nicolas] Sarkozy would not be a target for anything. And they also know well that their own intelligence agencies do the same thing with friendly countries, like the U.S."
As for Merkel's statement voicing disappointment upon learning of the possible eavesdropping on her conversations by the U.S., Hoekstra said: "It reminds me of the line in 'Casablanca' when Captain Renault closes down the nightclub and gives as his reason: 'I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on here.' And then he is presented with his winnings."
"Absolutely right!" said Hayden, when Newsmax shared Hoekstra's "Casablanca" analogy with him. "I understand popular opinion in a democracy such as Germany is upset over at least a portion. But at least a portion of that is 'outraged theater.'"
Hayden, who was director of the NSA from 1999-2005 and CIA director from 2006-09, told Newsmax, "This is a complex issue and, in essence, what the story is, is that there is a story.
"It's beyond my ability to comprehend that the [German and other] governments did not know this was going on. What Snowden and his journalist-confederates have 'revealed' is simply a description of what nation-states do and have done for a long time," Hayden said, referring to Edward Snowden, the government contractor who leaked the existence of the NSA's vast surveillance program to the media.
As to whether he ever saw such information about leaders from allied countries, Hayden replied: "Absent professional guidance to the contrary and if you are not protected by the Fourth Amendment, if your conversations contain information to make America more free and more safe, and we would otherwise not have access to it, your privacy is not in our job description."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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