On Sunday, CBS moderator Bob Schieffer invited former National Security Agency (NSA) head retired Gen. Michael Hayden to appear on “Face the Nation” to discuss privacy and government spying. Schieffer’s choice of interview subject should be both revealing and infuriating to any member of the American public who rejects the notion that government has the right to violate citizen privacy.
Hayden served as the NSA’s director under President George W. Bush, and was instrumental in setting up the agency’s behemoth and unConstitutional warrantless surveillance apparatus.
As the The Guardian’s Glen Greenwald pointed out in a piece Monday, “That’s the very same Michael Hayden who is now frequently presented by US television outlets as the authority and expert on the current NSA controversy – all without ever mentioning the central role he played in overseeing that illegal warrantless eavesdropping program.”
Greenwald also noted that not only was Hayden directly involved in setting up many of the NSA’s illegal surveillance protocols, but the retired general also has a financial incentive to ensure that public outrage doesn’t lead to the undoing of NSA spying.
Greenwald reported, “Hayden is a partner in the Chertoff Group, a private entity that makes more and more money by increasing the fear levels of the US public and engineering massive government security contracts for their clients. Founded by former Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff, it’s filled with former national security state officials who exploit their connections in and knowledge of Washington to secure hugely profitable government contracts for their clients.”
And, “…Hayden has a clear financial stake in the very NSA debates he’s put on television to adjudicate. And while he’s sometimes identified as a principal of the Chertoff Group, what that means – the conflicts of interest it creates in the very debates in which he’s participating – is almost never mentioned. That’s because one inviolable rule for establishment TV hosts like Bob Schieffer is that US military officials must be treated with the greatest reverence and must never be meaningfully challenged…”
And the American newsman in Britain has a very valid point. Note the softballs Schieffer pitched for the former spy chief.
Discussing President Barack Obama’s announcement last week that his Administration would set up a group of individuals to act as a “privacy advocate” and challenge some of the FISA court’s rubber stamp approvals of NSA actions, Schieffer gave Hayden the wiggle room required to make slight hurdles to government spying seem dangerous:
BOB SCHIEFFER: Well— well let me just cite an example and let’s say that the NSA runs across something that they think an attack on the country is imminent—
GENERAL MICHAEL HAYDEN: Right.
BOB SCHIEFFER: —and they want to go into the court and say, “We got to do this right now.”
GENERAL MICHAEL HAYDEN: Right.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Is it feasible? Is it practical? Is it even possible to say, “Well, wait, let’s— let’s argue this a bit?” I mean it would seem to me that time was of the essence.
GENERAL MICHAEL HAYDEN: No, it is very much of the essence.
Schieffer spent much of the interview helpfully answering his own questions as he asked them.
Gawker blogger Hamilton Nolan mocked Schieffer’s interview style, suggesting that each question could easily have been phrased thusly, “Let me think of a remote hypothetical situation in which it sounds like privacy should not be respected. Isn’t it true that this hypothetical makes this reasonable and quite milquetoast proposal sound absurd?”
Schieffer went on to point out that the privacy-loving public doesn’t understand the NSA’s great responsibility.
That sparked this exchange:
BOB SCHIEFFER: Do you— do you think, General, that the public understands what it is the NSA is doing?
GENERAL MICHAEL HAYDEN: No.
BOB SCHIEFFER: They have this large collection of phone numbers, but if I understand it, they’re not listening in on people’s conversations.
GENERAL MICHAEL HAYDEN: No, no.
BOB SCHIEFFER: They don’t do that until they do get a court order.
GENERAL MICHAEL HAYDEN: That’s correct, to an American, to target an American. And actually the President was quite candid in his commentary. He actually pointed out that when he was Senator Obama and wasn’t quite fully knowledgeable about these programs he was opposed to them and only becoming President Obama, when he actually saw what was going on that he become actually a very forceful advocate for them.
The rest of the interview followed a similar pattern of Schieffer asking easy questions and Hayden taking the opportunity to justify every one of the NSA’s unConstitutional methods.
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) recently announced amendment proposals to a media shield law designed to protect journalists. Her amendment would place limitations on the definition of “journalist” because she is concerned “that the current version of the bill would grant a special privilege to people who aren’t really reporters at all, who have no professional qualifications.” Basically, the lawmaker’s goal is to make it dangerous for anyone who is not a member of the mainstream media (à la Schieffer) to inform the public of abuses carried out by those in power.
After all, Schieffer’s “professional qualifications” are vastly helpful to his journalistic integrity— especially if you’re a politician who needs a media puppet to cover your crimes.