A former director of two U.S. spy agencies panned Edward Snowden's nationally televised interview as a display of self-justification colored by evasions, naiveté and statements that undercut Snowden's claims to have any real training or expertise in intelligence.
Former CIA and NSA chief Michael Hayden appeared on Newsmax TV on Thursday with a detailed, and scathing, critique of NSA leaker Snowden's sit-down with Brian Williams of NBC News.
Hayden called the network's exclusive — taped in Russia and broadcast on Wednesday night —"more of a platform for Snowden" than a skeptical cross-examination of a man U.S. officials consider a fugitive.
"If it was an interview, it surely wasn't a very aggressive one," Hayden said of Snowden's treatment by NBC's top news personality. "I had a ton of follow-on questions that I thought Brian Williams should have asked."
In a two-part interview of his own on "America's Forum," the retired Air Force general and veteran spymaster also remarked on President Obama's foreign policy, tensions with Russia, an Iranian spy venture targeting
U.S. officials and, finally, the bureaucratic nightmare engulfing his personal friend — Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki.
Hayden stopped short of calling for Shinseki's departure. But he told "America's Forum" hosts J.D. Hayworth and John Bachman there are scenarios in which "the general would have to leave "as part of an overhaul to end deadly treatment delays and fraudulent record-keeping at failing military hospitals.
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"This is a very good officer," Hayden said of Shinseki, "but the stories coming out
of Phoenix now, they're confirming our worst fears, aren't they?"
Hayden fixed most of his attention on Snowden. While criticizing Williams for not following up, Hayden also noted Snowden "refused to discuss somethings that Williams did indeed raise."
"This is part of a broad campaign by Snowden and his supporters, one, to be fair and explain his positions, but number 2, to justify what he's done," said Hayden. "And from my point of view, what he has done has been tremendously harmful."
Snowden told Williams that in the year since he fed details of the NSA's phone and Internet data collection to journalists, he has yet to see evidence his leaks hurt any Americans. "If there is," said Snowden, "I'd like to know about it."
Hayden said a functioning spy agency would "never go public with the specifics about how a leak of information has harmed you; otherwise, you increase the amount of harm."
"If he's such the all-fired intelligence expert he claims to be, he'd know that," Hayden added.
Self-portrait aside, "You've had the leadership of the two [congressional] intelligence committees — both houses, both parties; people who actually do get to see this stuff — come out and quite forcefully
say there has been great harm done and the United States has lost coverage of legitimate intelligence targets because of what he has done," said Hayden.
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Hayden labeled as "incredibly naïve" Snowden's blanket claim to have never met President Vladimir Putin of Russia, his de-facto host, and to "have no relationship
with the Russian government at all."
"I'm willing to state with medium to high confidence he indeed has met people from the Russian government — he just doesn't know they're from the Russian government," said Hayden. "As far as never meeting President Putin, I do wish Williams would have asked a follow-up question: 'You appeared on a Vladimir Putin infomercial.'
Hayden struck a more hopeful note on Russia's regional conduct, saying Putin's "skillful, bloodless" annexation of Crimea could turn out to be the extent of the assault on independent Ukraine.
"I think he's actually moved back from the abyss over the last two or three weeks … and frankly that is a success for American policy because we've become a bit more forceful in supporting the Ukrainian government," said Hayden.
But he said it was a premature "victory lap" Obama took regarding Ukraine in his commencement speech at West Point on Wednesday.
Of another U.S. adversary, Iran, Hayden said he was "not shocked" to hear of Iranians using social media and other online tools to lull U.S. military and civilian officials into giving up sensitive personal data.
"This appears to have been a very sophisticated, slow-moving, patient attack by the Iranians using techniques that are readily available if you're clever enough to use them," said Hayden. "Look, we've all left a massive digital exhaust [trail] out there on the World Wide Web. There's an awful lot of information about each and every one of us out there."
Spies "use that to create emails and other kinds of communication that seem to be coming from a trusted source," he said.
Hayden said Iran is not to be underestimated in its capacity to spy or, really, do anything a nation-state puts its mind to.
"This is a great civilization, a great culture of talented people and we're seeing evidence of it," he said.
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