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Former NSA director: Snowden 'misshaped the debate'

Jan. 17, 2014 at 8:19 AM ET

Video: Retired General Michael Hayden, a former director of both the NSA and CIA says whistleblowing by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden has severely and irreversibly harmed the security agency’s ability to perform its duties.

Edward Snowden’s major revelations about invasive U.S. surveillance programs have caused “serious, irreversible harm” to the way the National Security Agency protects the country against foreign threats, former NSA director Michael Hayden said Friday.

“People around the world now know more about the American intelligence process than they know about their own intelligence processes. That’s not good for civil liberties or for security,” Hayden told TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie.

Hayden spoke just hours before President Obama called for an overhaul of NSA's massive collection and storage of data on phone calls and electronic communications. The changes are an effort to boost the country’s trust in the agency and in how the government can balance protecting national security with concerns about personal privacy.

Under Obama's changes, NSA and other intelligence agencies must now get approval from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court before they can access any of the "metadata" at the center of the debate.

But Hayden, who directed the NSA during the attacks of Sept. 11 in 2001, said he believes the changes will turn back the clock.

“That procedure reminds me of the way we operated before the September 11 attacks,” he said. “That makes me uncomfortable because, in addition to the specific thing, it sends a message to the bureaucracy that we’re trending back to the old ways of doing business.”

Hayden said that even if it weren't for Snowden, the nation would probably would have been talking about U.S. surveillance programs, but the conversation was accelerated by the former NSA contractor who leaked thousands of agency documents to the press. Hayden said Snowden wrongly twisted the public’s perception about NSA's work. 

“There are some real powerful tectonic plates moving with regard to overall government transparency,” he said. “Snowden certainly accelerated it, but Savannah, Snowden also misshaped the debate.”

Hayden said a recent poll found that 25 percent of all Americans believe the NSA listens to their phone calls.

“That’s a product of what Snowden has put out there in a very sensationalist way and frankly, the way it’s been reported,” he said. 


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