Michael Hayden laughs off reform of ‘that little 215 programme’.
A former director of the National Security Agency (NSA) hailed the lack of progress in rolling back the US surveillance state in the wake of the leaks from whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Speaking at the Wall Street Journal’s CFO Network conference, Michael Hayden claimed the only substantive change for the American surveillance group was the so-called 215 programme, which allowed spies to collect American phone metadata en masse.
That scheme was based on the Patriot Act’s Section 215 which Congress failed to renew this month due to opposition from both the rightwing Republican and leftwing Democrat parties, in a move that was condemned by the American president Barack Obama.
However the country’s legislature did pass a provision in the so-called USA Freedom Act that lets spies go to court to ask for such data from telecoms companies, which are obliged to retain such records under the bill.
Hayden said that if somebody had told him "this Snowden thing" was "going to be a nightmare" for the two years after the leaks in summer of 2013, but would only lead to "that little 215 programme" being altered, his response would be: "Cool!"
He also commented on the allegations that China had attacked the US Office of Personal Management, describing the stolen civil service staff records as "a legitimate foreign intelligence target".
"If I as director of CIA or NSA would have had the opportunity to grab the equivalent from the Chinese system, I would not have thought twice," he said.
"I would not have asked permission, I’d have launched the Star Fleet and we’d have brought those suckers home at the speed of light."
Asked if Snowden was a foreign agent working with China or Russia, Hayden said he had "suspicions" but "no evidence".
The question followed a widely criticised story from The Sunday Times in which anonymous sources from the British government and security establishment claimed China and Russia had "cracked" the Snowden files to the detriment of the West.