Michael Hayden, the former head of the NSA and the CIA, is the official mouthpiece of the American surveillance state. His blithe, unquestioning acceptance of the idea that privacy is a foolish notion is horrifying. And for that, he is valuable.
Michael Hayden believes that his experience makes him a voice of moderation and maturity in the debate that has arisen over the NSA's vast global spying program. In fact, he is the voice of extremity. He is the living embodiment of the belief that surveillance is its own justification—that appeals for privacy on the basis of morality or ethics are ridiculous. He represents the philosophy of the primacy of the surveillance state: The democratically elected government exists to serve the spies, not the other way around. Nowhere is this better revealed than in Hayden's Wall Street Journal op-ed today, a masterpiece of the "Whining to Friendly Ears" genre.
The purpose of Hayden's piece is for him to scoff at any efforts by policymakers to rein in the activities of the "intelligence community," in the wake of revelations that the NSA has been spying on everyone from leaders of allied governments to religious figures to you and me. It is amusing to watch him paint a picture of a horrifying world in which unaccountable spying bureaucracies are forced "dangerously close" to the scary prospect of transparency. Can you imagine?
And now the government of German Chancellor Angela Merkel feels fully entitled to ask (and have answered) the Watergate question: "What did the president know and when did he know it?"
It is bad politics and bad policy for good friends to put their partners in politically impossible situations, and recent reports of aggressive American espionage have done just that.
In the wacky world of Michael Hayden, our "good friends" are being extremely rude by trying to find out more about our secret program of spying on them. How dare they?
And so the president is clearly committed to a "rebalancing." He has teed this up by reminding audiences that "just because we can do something doesn't mean we should do it," and the coming report from his "outside experts" panel, due by year's end, will give him recommendations (and political cover) for making some moves.
Fair enough. I had my share of "political guidance" while at the NSA, too. It's not new.
But the administration needs to be careful not to overachieve.
It takes little imagination to hear the choked tone of mockery in Michael Hayden's voice as he says these words. "Rebalancing." "Outside experts." "Political guidance." He is celebrating Halloween with ample scarequotes. Thank god unelected spymaster and loud Acela talker Michael Hayden is here to remind the president not to try to "overachieve" when it comes to reining in a surveillance apparatus that quite literally has awarded itself the ability to tap into all the world's communication. That could be dangerous.
There's a real danger here. The American signals-intelligence community is being battered at home from extreme left and extreme right, and it's being battered from abroad for just being extremely good.
Beyond receiving new policy guidance, I fear that community will now take new blows and be conveniently labeled by some as "excessive" or "unconstrained" or "out of control."
The American surveillance state is excessive, unconstrained, and out of control. You'd have to be some sort of dangerous extremist not to see that. Thank you for always speaking up, Michael Hayden. That way the public doesn't need spies to know what the dangerous extremists are thinking.