Former NSA and CIA Director Michael Hayden, supports a bill to end the government's bulk collection of Americans' phone records, but warns that doing so will compromise national security, The Washington Times reports
"Draw the box [and] we'll play inside the smaller box," Hayden said at a panel on privacy sponsored by the Times, the ACLU and Microsoft.
"By increasing your comfort level, you've also almost certainly increased your danger level. But as long as you're comfortable with that, that's the social contract. That's the way democracies work."
Hayden led the National Security Agency during the George W. Bush administration when the agency began conducting warrantless surveillance via the mass collection of phone records — stored for five years — which includes times, durations and parties involved in phone calls, according to the Times. Officials created the secret program with the intention of fleshing out terrorists by spotting links.
The program continued under the Obama administration and sparked public outrage when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked its details last year. Snowden also stole some 1.5 million top secret documents and has provided some of them to the media. He fled the U.S. and is currently living in Russia after being granted asylum by the Russian government.
The retired Air Force general told the panel he supports a bill that would keep the phone records with individual phone companies, who would then turn over the data by court order.
"It's going to be a little cumbersome," he cautioned. "It's going to be a little harder to hop from Verizon to AT&T to some other phone company in order to do the chaining. But in return for the lack of agility, we will now have access to all of your phone records, and I think that is a happy compromise."
Hayden and David Medine, chairman of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, told the panel they support the creation of an independent advocate to represent "average Americans' interests" in the secret court that oversees intelligence programs, the Times reported.
At a Johns Hopkins University's Foreign Affairs Symposium in April, Hayden said the program has been misunderstood.
"It's really important to understand the program in its entirety, not the potentiality of the program, but how the program is actually conducted," he said, according to ABC News
"So NSA gets phone records, gets them from the telephone company, been getting them since October of 2001 from one authority or another, puts them in a lockbox… and under very strict limitations can access the lockbox."
A phone number connected to a suspected terrorist could be run against previously collected records to get leads and make connections "in the name of national security."
Hayden was firm that there have been no abuses of the data collected and reminded the panel that Congress passed, and later reauthorized, Section 215 of the Patriot Act approving the practice. It was also done with the approval of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, he said.
"In the 215 program you've got all three branches going check, check, check. That's kind of the Madisonian trifecta. That's how it's supposed to work," he said.
When the program was first created, the NSA collected nearly 100 percent of phone records, but that figure has since declined to about 25 or 30 percent, according to the Times.
Hayden this week called Snowden's leaks "the greatest hemorrhaging of legitimate American secrets in the history of the republic" and said his actions have damaged America's reputation around the globe, The Hill reports
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