Former NSA and CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden says he is surprised people are surprised at the detailed spying the National Security Agency is able to do.
German magazine Der Spiegel published a story
on Sunday that laid out the NSA's ability to hack into the computer systems and phones of its targets, and even to stop computer equipment mid-shipping to install spyware.
The article says current NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander and his crew are "pretty good at this. And that's good news for the American people," Hayden said Monday on Fox News Channel's "Special Report."
Traditional signals intelligence used to be passive and "midpoint," Hayden explained. If someone being targeted decided to send a message, spy agencies tried to get between points A and B and intercept the communication.
With the digital age, he said, spies have gone to "active" signals intelligence. They don't just intercept at the midpoint, but go to the endpoint, he said.
"Go to a point where sometimes they have not even yet decided to transmit," he said.
Hayden called the new collection methods "a good thing for American security and American liberty."
Der Spiegel's article no doubt damaged the NSA's abilities, Hayden said. Now, legitimate foreign intelligence targets will read such reports and begin to take action to get around the methods, and that will make the United States less safe, he said.
Hayden told Fox News he read the article in Der Spiegel with his "antennae up" to see whether there was anything that should concern the U.S. public, but said he couldn't find it.
The targets discussed were legitimate foreign intelligence targets, he said.
Hayden also said he was pleased that U.S. companies are surprised their products were hacked by the NSA. They should be surprised, Hayden said, because they had nothing to do with it; it was all the NSA.
Turning to the New York Times story
on Saturday that said al-Qaida was not involved in the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, Hayden compared the argument to medieval theological discussions about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.
Hayden said it was reminiscent of President Bill Clinton's parsing the meaning of the word "is."
Whether the terrorist group behind the 9/11 attacks was also linked to the Benghazi attacks "depends on your meaning of the word 'al-Qaida'," he said.
There are three levels to the group, he explained: "al-Qaida prime, al-Qaida-affiliated, and groups who are like-minded." Within days of the attacks, he said, he termed them "either high-end like-minded or low-end affiliated."
So, while al-Qaida probably did not directly order the attacks, they were carried out by people under its influence, he said.
"No one has suggested that somebody with a Motorola Push to Talk in the Hindu Kush was sending detailed instructions to somebody in Benghazi," he said.
Republican lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee have called
the Times report "misleading."
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