Michael Hayden, Troll Extraordinaire

“Intelligence agencies often act on the edges of executive prerogative and move forward based on a narrow base of lawfulness and limited congressional notification,” says Michael Hayden, the guy who oversaw Bush’s illegal wiretap for 2.5 years before the full Gang of Eight first got adequately briefed, and who never briefed Congress on CIA’s assassination program.

In the same piece, Hayden hails media editors who ceded to his requests to hold or adjust a story.

So, how do we limit the damage? Well, journalists will have to expand the kind of sensitivities to the national welfare that some already show. In those calls I made to slow, scotch or amend a pending story, most on the other end of the line were open to reasonable arguments. In one case a writer willingly changed a reference that had read “based on intercepts” to “based on intelligence reports,” somewhat amazed that that change made much of a difference. (It did.)

But then insists the UndieBomb 2.0 story — for which AP editors had made precisely those kinds of concessions — was right to be investigated because John Brennan’s push back to it exposed a mole.

The two prominent cases being debated were indeed serious leaks, because they touched upon sources, not just information.

In the case of the Associated Press report on a Yemen-based bomb plot, the source had apparently penetrated an al Qaeda network and there were hopes that he could continue to be exploited.

[snip]

And, since the Yemen source appears to have actually been recruited by a liaison partner, the impact of a leak goes far beyond our own service. In that same talk with bureau chiefs, I pointed out that several years before 9/11, one chief of station reported that a press leak of liaison intelligence had “put us out of the (Osama) bin Laden reporting business”.

In both stories, investigations were in order. Journalists, of all people, should understand the need to protect sources and relationships.

As the LAT story Hayden links to says clearly, “The AP did not mention the informant in its report.” And, as I laid out some weeks back, to believe our mole was going to return, the former head of the CIA would have to believe that AQAP shows great tolerance for recruits who fuck up and then return right after high ranking operatives get drone killed.

Because to maintain that claim, you’d have to explain how an AQAP operative who had been entrusted with the latest version of Ibrahim al-Asiri’s UndieBomb sometime in early April, had left (at least as far as Sanaa), had not apparently succeeded in his mission (which was, after all, meant to be a suicide bombing), could return to AQAP without the UndieBomb and infiltrate even further than he had the first time.

“Oh, hi, AQAP gatekeeper” — their story must imagine the mole saying as he returned to AQAP — “I’ve both failed in my mission and somehow lost the bomb you gave me, but based on that would you be willing to let me spend some quality time with even higher-ranking AQAP operatives?”

In short, Hayden appears to have decided it’d be a good idea to ignore the facts, good sense, and his own history so as to suggest that the Obama Administration is worse than the reasonable old Bush Administration.

But the investigations have been very aggressive and the acquisition of journalists’ communications records has been broad, invasive, secret and—one suspects—unnecessary.

A quick survey of former Bush administration colleagues confirmed my belief that a proposal to sweep up a trove of AP phone records or James Rosen’s e-mails would have had a half-life of about 30 seconds in that administration.

Just ignore the fact that the government was asking people questions about James Risen‘s phone contacts — indicating they had probably doing just what the Obama Administration did to the AP reporters, only without telling him — before Obama took over.

But here’s my favorite part:

The government may also want to adjust its approach to enforcement. The current tsunami of leak prosecutions is based largely on the Espionage Act, a blunt World War I statute designed to punish aiding the enemy. It’s sometimes a tough fit. The leak case against former National Security Agency employee Thomas Drake collapsed of its own overreach in 2011.

Perhaps in many of these cases the best approach is not through the courts or the Department of Justice.

Remember, Drake was investigated for telling a journalist about Hayden’s own boondoggle that cost many times what NSA’s existing better solution cost. There is virtually no way the investigation against him didn’t rely, in part, on Hayden’s own testimony.

And now, 6 years after the investigation into Drake started in earnest, Hayden suggests Drake shouldn’t have been criminally investigated at all.

Hayden can afford that very belated generosity, of course. He’s been profiting off the same kind of boondoggles Drake tried to expose for years now.

I mean, sure, the main jist of what Hayden says is true: the Administration is pursuing leaks far too aggressively. But coming from a guy who has long benefitted from the Executive Branch asymmetric abuse of secrecy, he’s not exactly the right person to be making the point.

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.

10 replies
  1. Bitter Angry Drunk says:

    So we want to recruit/coerce journalists’ sources to be CIA moles, is that what I should be getting from this?

    Also: fuck you, Michael Hayden.

  2. What Constitution? says:

    Any Michael Hayden commentary would be so much better if only it came from a prison interview.

  3. Jeff Kaye says:

    Small point on the mole business. You wrote:

    Oh, hi, AQAP gatekeeper” — their story must imagine the mole saying as he returned to AQAP — “I’ve both failed in my mission and somehow lost the bomb you gave me, but based on that would you be willing to let me spend some quality time with even higher-ranking AQAP operatives?”

    But this kind of credulity is not unknown in the Western intelligence services. One may wish to recall the history of Soviet mole Kim Philby. Suspicion rested on him for some time, but Soviet intelligence kept Philby in place to nearly the last possible second.

    Should AQ intel, or the Yemenis, or Saudis, or the CIA for that matter, be immune to such things? While the Soviets lost the Cold War, their intelligence services were damn good, if brutal (like all intel services).

  4. Arbusto says:

    Perhaps in many of these cases the best approach is not through the courts or the Department of Justice.

    Egad, unless this is taken out of context, is he saying it’s time for more extrajudicial imprisonment or just straight out assassination of whistle-blowers and journalists.

  5. liberalrob says:

    @Arbusto: That was my first thought too. Just disappear ’em off to Gitmo; who’s going to have the cojones to cry foul?

    It’s a sad commentary on our nation that that scenario is even plausible.

  6. lefty665 says:

    @Bitter Angry Drunk: See your “fuck you, Michael Hayden.” and raise it one.

    @What constitution? A jailhouse interview indeed! Insult to injury is that Hayden was running things when we decided on Israeli designed Narus machines in the switch intercept rooms. Chances are pretty good those have back doors to Tel Aviv.

    @Jeff Kaye Interesting analogy, but not sure it fits very well. Philby was turning over content, reporting to the Russians. He did things like warning them we were reading Russian cryp systems. It took a long time to finger him as the common denominator in a varied lot of losses and exposures. He wasn’t on a suicide mission, coming back alive, without his bomb and asking for more.

  7. P J Evans says:

    @liberalrob:
    I expected it to happen under Bush-Cheney.

    (‘You just won an all-expense paid trip to [fill in blank with country of interest]. You’re leaving tonight; your possessions will be packed and shipped tomorrow.’)

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