Michael Hayden, Privacy and Counterterrorism Frugality Champion

Of 1,423 words in an article questioning whether deficit hawkery might cut the domestic spying budget, Scott Shane devotes over a sixth–roughly 260–describing what former NSA and CIA Director Michael Hayden thinks about the balances between funding and security.

Remarkably, none of those 260 words disclose that Hayden works for Michael Chertoff’s consulting group, which profits off of big domestic spying. This, in an article that cites Chertoff’s electronic border fence among the expensive counterterrorism duds that were subsequently shut down (Shane mentions “puffer” machines as well, but not the Rapiscan machines that Chertoff’s group lobbied for, which are now being withdrawn as well).

And then there’s a passage of Shane’s article that touches on topics in which Hayden’s own past actions deserve disclosure.

Like other intelligence officials after 2001, Mr. Hayden was whipsawed by public wrath: first, for failing to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks, and then, a few years later, for having permitted the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on terrorism suspects in the United States without court approval.

Perhaps, as a result, he often says that the American people need to instruct the government on where to draw the line. He told an audience at the University of Michigan last month, for instance, that while a plot on the scale of the Sept. 11 attacks was highly unlikely, smaller terrorist strikes, like the shootings by an Army psychiatrist at Fort Hood in Texas in 2009, could not always be stopped.

“I can actually work to make this less likely than it is today,” Mr. Hayden said. “But the question I have for you is: What of your privacy, what of your convenience, what of your commerce do you want to give up?”

To be fair, Shane counters Hayden’s claims by noting that “secrecy … makes it tough for any citizen to assess counterterrorism programs.”

But he doesn’t mention one of the biggest examples where Hayden–where anyone–chose both the most expensive and most privacy invasive technology: the wiretap program Hayden outsourced to SAIC rather than use in-house solutions.

As Thomas Drake has made clear, by outsourcing to SAIC, Hayden spent 300 times as much as he would have with the in-house solution.

One of them was Lieutenant General Michael Hayden, the head of the agency: he wanted to transform the agency and launched a massive modernization program, code named: “Trailblazer.” It was supposed to do what Thin Thread did, and more.

Trailblazer would be the NSA’s biggest project. Hayden’s philosophy was to let private industry do the job. Enormous deals were signed with defense contractors. [Bill] Binney’s Thin Thread program cost $3 million; Trailblazer would run more than $1 billion and take years to develop.

“Do you have any idea why General Hayden decided to go with Trailblazer as opposed to Thin Thread, which already existed?” Pelley asked.


Asked to elaborate, Drake said, “Careers are built on projects and programs. The bigger, the better their career.” [my emphasis]

Along the way, Hayden repeatedly blew off Congressional staffer Diane Roark’s inquiries about privacy protection.

When Binney heard the rumors, he was convinced that the new domestic-surveillance program employed components of ThinThread: a bastardized version, stripped of privacy controls. “It was my brainchild,” he said. “But they removed the protections, the anonymization process. When you remove that, you can target anyone.” He said that although he was not “read in” to the new secret surveillance program, “my people were brought in, and they told me, ‘Can you believe they’re doing this? They’re getting billing records on U.S. citizens! They’re putting pen registers’ ”—logs of dialled phone numbers—“ ‘on everyone in the country!’ ”


[Former HPSCI staffer Diane Roark] asked Hayden why the N.S.A. had chosen not to include privacy protections for Americans. She says that he “kept not answering. Finally, he mumbled, and looked down, and said, ‘We didn’t need them. We had the power.’ He didn’t even look me in the eye. I was flabbergasted.” She asked him directly if the government was getting warrants for domestic surveillance, and he admitted that it was not. [my emphasis]

So it’s not just disclosure of all the ways Hayden has and does profit off of continued bloated domestic surveillance that Shane owes his readers: he also should refute Hayden’s claims about the relationship between cost, privacy, and efficacy.

Michael Hayden’s SAIC-NSA boondoggle is one case where secrecy no longer hides how much money was wasted for unnecessary privacy violations.

Yet somehow, that spectacular example of the unnecessary waste in domestic spying doesn’t make it into the 260 words granted to Hayden to argue we need continued inflated spending.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

8 replies
  1. marksb says:

    You know in the past I’ve described “lawful intercept” which was rammed down our throats back in 2000/2001 when I was working in strategic planning/business development for a major international telecom manufacturer. We talked then about how we were on a slippery slope and about to lose our footing.

    Here we are. Free-fall.

  2. marksb says:

    And here’s Cisco’s short-and-sweet introduction to lawful intercept:

    The term “lawful intercept” describes the process by which law enforcement agencies conduct electronic surveillance of circuit and packet-mode communications as authorized by judicial or administrative order. Countries throughout the world have adopted legislative and regulatory requirements for providers of public and private communication services (service providers) to design and implement their networks to support authorized electronic surveillance explicitly. International standards organizations have also developed standards to guide service providers and manufacturers in specific lawful intercept capabilities.

  3. GKJames says:

    Ah, Hayden. Yet one more re-tread whose opinions, like John Bombs Away! Bolton’s, keep getting airwaves oxygen long past their sell-by date. When the warrantless wiretapping first became public, I wondered for the longest time why these clowns wouldn’t just get a warrant. Of thousands of warrant requests over decades, the FISA court rejected not more than a handful. What could possibly be the big deal? Why would the Executive Branch invite the scrutiny and the controversy? And I had trouble finding an explanation at all, let alone a rational one. Until, by sheer chance, I happened to come across a news show with Hayden as the guest. Uncharacteristically, I didn’t change the channel, unsettled as I normally am whenever seeing this glassy-eyed, only-two-degrees-shy-of-Manson freak. His gob-smacking explanation? “Do you realize how much paperwork has to be filed for a warrant request?” Alas, the journalist failed to follow up.

  4. Mick Savage says:

    “Like other intelligence officials after 2001, Mr. Hayden was whipsawed by public wrath:”
    did i miss where the felon was sawed into parts like KFC or what? and, what, grab the pearls, is “other intelligence officals after 2001”. Colon Powell and his disgraced lying ilk?

    “first, for failing to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks,”
    oh really? where did i miss that announcement?

    and then, a few years later, for having permitted the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on
    he did? i thought it was politicians granting retroactive immunity which accomplished that, and besides Utah is making billions from hosting the NSA facility that doesn’t spy on amurikkans.

    terrorism suspects
    read: anyone in duh world

    in the United States
    hahahahha – see above

    without court approval.”
    how quaint, joost ask scaley of the supremes

    Thanks for parsing, Mick.
    Sounds like multiple felonies to me batman.

  5. JohnT says:


    About a year and a half, or two years ago, there was a blog at boingboing, with a jpg of a poster from the 60’s or 70’s, by a telecom warning its employees to be vigilant about not infringing on the 4th amendment rights of its customers.

    Times have changed

  6. marksb says:

    @JohnT, in case you poke your nose back in here…

    When this thing came down, it came over a few years; new requirements from government to telecom companies, who included in their contract requirements of the next bid that we show our roadmap to including this functionality in our equipment bids. In other words, show your commitment to having this functionality or don’t bother bidding. After a couple of years of this, it became just an engineering problem to solve and a set of product requirements in the feature set.

    Guys I talked to in a couple of major telecoms said it was presented by their respective governments as a requirement with no recourse for challenge–by law, you *will* do this. All before 9/11.

    As my dad use to say, shit flows downhill and payday’s on Friday.

  7. marksb says:

    “All before 9/11” meaning by 2001 it was an assumptive feature requirement. 9/11 just “lawfully” forced the telecoms to actually use the capability for non-warrant intercept. Plus the advances in computer speed and memory capability in the last six years or so enabled the monitoring of massive packet traffic in near-Real Time.

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