Former CIA Director Michael Hayden tells Newsmax that the most important aspect of Private Bradley Manning's conviction on multiple charges is the "deterrent effect" it might have on others with access to sensitive information.
But the retired four-star Air Force general asserts that Manning is being "horribly exploited" by those who are urging more government transparency.
And he says the intelligence leaked by former National Security Agency staffer Edward Snowden could be "the most serious hemorrhaging of American secrets" ever.
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Hayden served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency from May 2006 until February 2009, shortly after Obama’s inauguration. He also served as director of the NSA from 1999 to 2005, and is now on the Advisory Board of LIGNET.com, a Washington, D.C.-based intelligence analysis and forecasting service affiliated with Newsmax.
Manning on Tuesday was acquitted of the most serious charge he faced, aiding the enemy, but he was convicted on a slew of other charges.
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In an exclusive interview with Newsmax TV on Wednesday, Hayden offers his reaction to the verdict: "I'm quite satisfied. The aid to the enemy charge was always a reach.
"Now he did aid the enemy and frankly it's very difficult for me to imagine someone in his position not understanding that if he were to do what he was planning to do and what he did do that it would not aid the enemy. But that's not the only topic that the court had to consider. It had to consider his intent at that time, his state of mind, and so that was always a very high bar.
"I'm not particularly disappointed that that charge was dismissed. I mean, being convicted on five charges of espionage, that's a nontrivial event both nationally and certainly in this young man's life.
"The verdict yesterday was just," Hayden said.
The message that the verdict sends to other members of the military who have access to the same type of information as Manning "may be the most important aspect of yesterday's verdict and of the whole process," Hayden maintains. "It's the deterrent effect and that's certainly a legitimate effect of our court system.
"I'm not suggesting we've got other Mannings and Snowdens in our ranks, but we are recruiting from that generation of young Americans that creates young folks like this, folks whose balance point between secrecy and transparency is quite different than the balance points of their parents and grandparents.
"Yesterday's verdict has a very powerful message to this whole cohort of folks, almost all of whom are working hard and well and successfully for the United States: Whatever it is you think the balance point between security and transparency might be in your private life, whatever it is you decide will or will not go on your Facebook page, when you come to work there are certain standards that the federal government will demand because you have taken an oath of office to protect very sensitive and classified information, and we will expect you to protect that information according to our standards, not yours.
"So always remember that actions will have consequences, and frankly, that was a very important message yesterday," Hayden stated.
Manning has become a cause celebre to some, including those who promote the "I am Bradley Manning" campaign. Asked what he would say to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and others who are using Manning as the poster boy for more government transparency, Hayden tells Newsmax: "This young man did very bad things, don’t get me wrong. But he's been horribly exploited by other people, none of whom are facing the full force of American law.
"It's very important to point out that it is not necessarily true that these 'supporters' of Manning actually have Manning's best interest at heart. They may have some romantic commitment to a higher cause like absolute transparency rather than the issue in this young man's life," Hayden noted
"There is an element of our society that believes almost in total transparency or at least total government transparency. Privacy is to individuals and secrecy is to government. There are some things that government and individuals should keep private or secret, and it's also quite clear that both governments and individuals from time to time abuse that right to keep things private or secret.
"When you come out with the premise that no, not everything should be made public, either out of a personal life or out of our collective life, then you're ready to have an adult conversation arguing over the fine print of a diplomatic cable from Tunisia: Should it or should it not have been printed in The New York Times?"
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has been a vocal advocate in Washington for the civil libertarian perspective regarding government surveillance and secrecy.
Asked if Paul is being too idealistic, Hayden comments: "I'd never make that judgment about any of our national leaders, but he certainly does have a stark view of this government. He comes at it from an absolutist point of view.
"A very important thing for Sen. Paul is to have someone come up to him and actually explain what it is the government is doing, because he does seem to be operating under some misinformation and misapprehensions.
"At the end of the day, if Sen. Paul — or Sen. Paul and 99 of his other friends — say we're going to draw the line for you guys differently than we did in the past, the only thing I'm entitled to in that conversation is to offer them the judgment that if you draw the lines here, here's what I will and will not be able to do to keep you safe.
"My job is to salute and play very aggressively on my side of the line they've drawn for me. One of the biggest problems people like me have while we're in government is the failure of people to give us that very clean, crisp kind of guidance. So in one sense, Sen. Paul may be wrong, but he's clear, and that's not bad."
It now appears that Edward Snowden is going to get some sort of asylum in Russia, even if it is temporary. Discussing President Obama's involvement in the Snowden affair, Hayden observes: "The president tried to downplay it when he said 'I'm not going to get involved talking about a 29-year-old hacker' and so on. So he lost a little bit of diplomatic edge, to be very candid.
"He also wants to limit the political damage because this is not the president's fault, but it's certainly happening on his watch. ... This could end up being the most serious hemorrhaging of American secrets in the history of our country.
"Russian behavior with regard to Snowden is in a sidebar to the current relationship between ourselves and Moscow. We have the right to simply tell the Russians this is an important thing for us and your behavior on this question cannot help but affect the overall health of the Russian-American relationship. I don’t think we should be embarrassed about that at all," Hayden stated.
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"Notice that the White House press folks have been kind of downplaying Snowden and saying we've got other, far more important matters to discuss with the Russians. I don’t think it's right and I don’t think it's wise to simply dismiss some aspects of Russian behavior like this — pretend it never happened — and then get on to other issues," he said.
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