Hayden Defends Domestic Wiretapping
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
General Michael Hayden faced a grilling today at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Select Intelligence Committee.
Earlier in the day, the president's nominee for CIA director defended a domestic eavesdropping program, saying it was vital to the war against terrorism and not a violation of civil rights.
Democratic Senator Ron Wyden was among the Senators who took the nominee to task, in this case for failing to keep the Congressional Intelligence Committees fully informed.
Senator RON WYDEN (Democrat, Oregon): General, if we had not read about the warrantless wiretapping program in The New York Times last December, would 14 of the 16 members of the this Senate Intelligence Committee ever have heard about this program in a way consistent with national security?
General MICHAEL HAYDEN (Nominee for CIA Director): Senator, I simply have no way of answering that question. I don't know.
MARTIN: Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein focused on the treatment of terrorist suspects, including whether such individuals may be secretly detained for decades.
Gen. HAYDEN: Now, I know there's been some broad discussion about this publicly, and I know Secretary Rice has talked about our responsibilities under both U.S. and international law. Let me give you a full answer, ma'am, and let me give it to you in the closed session. But I would really be happy to answer your question.
Senator DIANNE FEINSTEIN (Democrat, California): Is there a periodic review of what useful and actionable intelligence can be gathered through interrogations and debriefings of terrorists that have been held with no contact with al-Qaida or other groups for years?
Gen. HAYDEN: Again, a more detailed response in closed session. And I - let me just hold it for closed, ma'am, and I think I'll be able...
Senator FEINSTEIN: You can't say whether there's a periodic review?
Gen. HAYDEN: Uh, ma'am, it - obviously. we would do things for a purpose, and therefore the intelligence value of any activity we undertake would be a very important factor. But, again, I don't want to state or imply things that I should not in open session. So let me just hold it. I will give you a very detailed answer in the closed session.
MARTIN: The hearings continue as we speak. The Intelligence Committee is expected to go into closed-door session later today.
Joining us now from Capitol Hill is Siobhan Gorman. She's the intelligence correspondent for The Baltimore Sun.
Ms. SIOBHAN GORMAN (Intelligence Correspondent, The Baltimore Sun): Great to be with you.
MARTIN: Now, as we heard in the excerpt there, a number of concerns about Gen. Hayden were raised. Did the senators get any answers?
Ms. GORMAN: Well, they got some answers. I'm not sure that they got a lot of new answers. It seemed like for the particularly informative or, you might say, sensitive questions, Gen. Hayden generally decided that he wanted to defer to this closed session. So it sounds like probably that is where, if there are going to be major answers and new information, that's probably where it's going to come. And so we won't necessarily know about it.
MARTIN: We heard what some of the Democratic members of the committee were concerned about, but what kinds of questions or concerns did the Republicans raise?
Ms. GORMAN: The questions that the Republicans raised, I think, well, Senator Roberts, who is the Chairman of the Committee, talked quite extensively about his concern about leaks and the damage that he feels that they do.
Other senators sought to establish sort of just a timeline of the warrantless surveillance program and what Gen. Hayden's role was in that, generally to try to establish that he briefed Congress, or that he got a sign-off from the president. So that was sort of the line of inquiry on the Republican side.
There were also some questions about whether or not his being a - Gen. Hayden's being a general, or a military man, would impact the way that he approaches running an agency like the CIA, which is a civilian agency.
MARTIN: How did he respond?
Ms. GORMAN: Gen. Hayden?
Ms. GORMAN: He responded to the question about military basically just saying that he has background in human spying, as well as in sort of the military, and that he was going to work to be listening to the people at the CIA. And he also did tell a different senator, actually Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, that if he felt that the fact that he was wearing a uniform became a problem with his, quote, "bonding" with his new workforce at the CIA that he would, quote, "make the right decision," which one might think would mean to retire from the uniform.
MARTIN: Given how many Republican Senators have already expressed their discomfort with his continued service in the military, I'm just - you may not know this, and I apologize if it's an unfair question, but why doesn't he just retire?
Ms. GORMAN: Well, probably a number of reasons. I mean, I think that for someone who has spent 37 years in the Air Force, I think that probably, for him, he has a very personal attachment to that history. I don't know how it would actually effect, for parochial reasons, his housing situation. He happens to live at Bolling Air Force Base. He has a lovely house. He had a nice press reception last October, actually when he was starting out at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
And I think that, probably, it's a personal decision, but my guess would be that he is very attached to his career in the military and he thinks that it, in part, maybe defines what he does and is and how he leads. But that's really speculation. I haven't had an expansive discussion with him about that.
MARTIN: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
In the excerpt that we played, we heard Gen. Hayden speak a number of times about going into closed session. How long will that session last? And, it's an odd thing to ask you about but what's going on in a closed session, since, by definition, you won't be in it; but do you think those have a very different flavor? Are the Senators less discursive? Do you think that there's actually more give and take?
Ms. GORMAN: Well, my understanding is that some of the Senators that seem a little bit more gentle in the open session tend to be more direct in the closed session. But that's really just from conversations with their staff. And sometimes their staff are in these closed sessions and sometimes their staff are not.
One would think that the closed sessions are going to be a much more candid display, because there would be less of a reason for Gen. Hayden, who obviously is going to be very careful in the words he chooses; but if its not being broadcast publicly, you can maybe be a little bit more open, and you also can reveal information that you can't reveal publicly, because this is obviously a committee that deals with all kinds of classified details.
It sounded, from the course of conversation today, that to the degree that there are important questions the Senators want answered about the warrantless surveillance program, or about interrogations, those questions are likely to be answered in closed session. I, you know, I can't say to what degree the Senators will be satisfied with those answers, because we won't know what that exchange is. But it's going to happen there. That's really where the action is going to be.
As for how long it will take, there's really no telling. It's not even clear how long this particular session will take. Although, I think they're taking a break for a vote at 4:15, and you tend to get attrition after votes, especially late in the afternoon. So it's possible it could wrap up shortly thereafter.
MARTIN: Siobhan, I'm sorry. Excuse me, I want to interrupt you, because we want to save some time to talk about a story you wrote for today's Sun. But before we do, just briefly, what's your sense of whether this nomination is likely to go through, despite all the questions that Gen. Hayden has been getting from both sides of the aisle?
Ms. GORMAN: I haven't seen any indication today that Senators are so skeptical that they aren't going to - you know, that he won't ultimately be confirmed. There seem to be some Senators who may not be fully convinced about Gen. Hayden's previous statements, say, with regard to the warrantless surveillance program and whether or not he's been fully candid about it. But it seems like those Senators are probably in a minority.
MARTIN: We want to ask you, as I said, about a story you wrote about today's Baltimore Sun, about an NSA program called the Thin Thread. Tell us about that.
Ms. GORMAN: Well, Thin Thread was actually the precursor to the warrantless surveillance program. And what is interesting about that, the Thin Thread program was, that it had a number of components and features to protect privacy and prevent abuse of data mining, analyzing information in databases, and things like that that the warrantless surveillance program doesn't have.
Thin Thread had a few different components, four of them actually, and one was this large database that you could funnel into it a great deal of phone records, e-mail records, things like that - certain - both domestic and abroad, and that is the component of the Thin Thread program that ultimately became the warrantless surveillance program.
But what happened when they created the warrantless surveillance program was that they disabled a couple of the other features, which were privacy protections, which would have encrypted the identifying information for people in the United States, either in their phone numbers or e-mail or other identifying information that might get pulled into the NSA database. And they...
MARTIN: Which seems to - would have - which would have seemed to address many of the things that the critics are concerned about now. So what happened to those features?
Ms. GORMAN: Well, they just were never put to use. And my understanding is that it would actually take less than an hour to enable that privacy protection. And some people who were part of the whole debate about the Thin Thread program are frustrated that those protections were disabled.
And my understanding is that the reason why it was disabled was that it was the view at NSA that, with the presidential wartime powers, it was not necessary to have them.
MARTIN: You, - but you wrote specifically, in your piece that Gen. Hayden was involved in killing that program, or those aspects of that particular program. You know, why?
Ms. GORMAN: It may be a little more detailed than what we have time for. But what was interesting was, the only time that this issue has come up at the hearing today was when Gen. Hayden acknowledged that there were people upset that he cancelled that program. But there was no further discussion. I'm not sure; it may be that the Senators weren't briefed on the story that I wrote today, because there probably wasn't a lot of time because there wasn't any follow-up questioning to that.
But the reason why it was cancelled had to do with a very different pre-9/11 interpretation of the NSA's ability to pull in information on people in the United States. But in the case of the Thin Thread program, it was actually just information on phone calls and other kinds of communication that went between the United States and someplace overseas.
So it was actually much more limited than what we're talking about now, which is the warrantless surveillance program, where you have all kinds of phone numbers and e-mail that are from inside the United States that get funneled into this database in order to figure out which communications or phone calls the NSA feels they need to listen in to, to try to identify and track down terrorist suspects.
MARTIN: Siobhan, thank you so much.
Ms. GORMAN: Thank you.
MARTIN: Siobhan Gorman is the Intelligence Correspondent for The Baltimore Sun. She joined us from Capitol Hill.
This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.