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2006-05-19

Hayden Defends Domestic Spy Program At Confirmation Hearing

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General Michael Hayden appeared before Senate Thursday for his confirmation hearings to become the new head of the CIA. The former director of the National Security Agency repeatedly defended the legality of the NSA’s secret warrant-less domestic eavesdropping program that he helped design. [includes rush transcript]

We turn now to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s confirmation hearing of General Michael Hayden to become the new head of the CIA. On Thursday the former director of the National Security Agency repeatedly defended the legality of the NSA’s secret warrant-less domestic eavesdropping program that he helped design.

  • Missouri Republican Senator Kit Bond, questioning General Michael Hayden.

Democratic Senator Russ Feingold later challenged Hayden to explain how he came to the conclusion that the program was legal even though the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act explicitly prohibits warrantless domestic surveillance.

  • Wisconsin Democratic Senator Russ Feingold, questioning General Michael Hayden.

General Michael Hayden refused to answer questions during the public portion of the hearing on a number of issues including interrogation methods, secret CIA prisons and the true extent of the government’s surveillance program. But he did criticize the media for publishing stories based on what he described as inaccurate or illegal disclosures about the agency.

  • General Michael Hayden.

Democratic Senator Carl Levin also questioned General Hayden about pre-war intelligence concerning Iraq’s links to al Qaeda.

  • Michigan Democratic Senator Carl Levin, questioning General Michael Hayden.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We turn now to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s confirmation hearing of General Michael Hayden to become the new head of the CIA. On Thursday, the former director of the National Security Agency repeatedly defended the legality of the NSA’s secret warrantless domestic eavesdropping program that he helped design. This is Republican Senator Kit Bond from Missouri questioning Hayden.

SEN. KIT BOND: Did you ever personally believe the program was illegal?

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN: No, sir.

SEN. KIT BOND: Did you believe that your primary responsibility as Director of NSA was to execute a program that your NSA lawyers, the Justice Department lawyers and White House officials all told you was legal and that you were ordered to carry it out by the President of the United States?

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN: Sir, when I had to make this personal decision in early October 2001, and it was a personal decision, the math was pretty straightforward. I could not not do this.

AMY GOODMAN: Wisconsin Democratic Senator Russ Feingold later challenged Hayden to explain how he came to the conclusion that the program was legal, even though the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act explicitly prohibits warrantless domestic surveillance.

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD: Yesterday, four-and-a-half years after the President authorized a program to wiretap Americans without a warrant and almost five months after the program was revealed in the press, the administration finally began describing the program to this committee. This long overdue briefing hastily arranged on the eve of this nomination, in my view, does not provide enough assurance that the administration’s general contempt for congressional oversight has diminished. But, Mr. Chairman, it is nonetheless welcome, and I look for more.

Mr. Chairman, I came away from that briefing yesterday more convinced than ever, first, that the program is illegal; and second, that the President misled the country in 2004, before the revelations about this program became public, when he said that wiretapping of Americans in this country requires a warrant; and third, that there was absolutely no reason that the administration could not have told the full committee about the program four-and-a-half years ago, as is required by law.

Now, the question before us today is the nomination for the Director of the CIA of General Hayden, who directed and vigorously defended this illegal program. Again, General Hayden is highly experienced, and I have enormous respect for his many years of service. But it is our responsibility to ask what kind of CIA director would he be. Will General Hayden follow the law, not the law except when the President says otherwise? And will General Hayden respect Congress’s statutory and constitutional oversight rule and not just when the President deems it politically convenient?

Let me be very clear — and I don’t think there’s any distance between me and General Hayden on this — al-Qaeda and its affiliates seek to destroy us. We must fight back. And we must join in this fight together as a nation. But when the administration ignores the law and refuses to involve Congress, I think it actually distracts us from our enemies and weakens us and weakens what the General and everybody else is trying to do. Our greatest strength as a nation lies in a few basic principles, that no one is above the law and that no one may operate outside of our constitutional system of checks and balances.

So, General, there are many intelligence matters that cannot be discussed publicly, but I think the American people have a right to know that what they are told publicly is, in fact, neither inaccurate nor misleading. And Senator Wyden was referring to a couple of statements that you made in the past that may bear on this. On October 17, 2002, you told the Joint Inquiry into the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001, that persons inside the United States, quote, "would have protections as what the law defines as a U.S. person, and I would have no authorities to pursue it," unquote. Given that the President had authorized the NSA to wiretap U.S. persons without a FISA warrant, how do you explain this statement?

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN: Sir, I’d have to go back and look at the context in which I offered it. It is very clear to me, though, even under the President’s authorization, that considerable legal protections would accrue to a, quote/unquote, "target" in the United States affiliated with al-Qaeda that would affect the ability of the NSA to track that target, compared to that target being in any other place on earth outside the United States. I also said that — that was in totally open session, as I recall, and I prefaced my remarks that day by pointing out that I had briefed the committee in more detail and that my remarks that day were necessarily limited.

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD: Well, General, I respect what you just said, but you specifically referred in that session — I have the transcript here —- to U.S. persons in the context to FISA. In other words, you weren’t talking about a different program. You weren’t talking about some of the other protections that might be there. And to the American people and to members of Congress, when they’re talking about FISA, that means a warrant. So, I’m wondering how you can reconcile that with -—

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN: Again, Senator, I mean, I knew in my own heart and mind that we are not talking about domestic to domestic. If my language could have been more precise, I apologize. But it was not an intent to mislead. It was to describe the limitations under which the agency worked and continued to work inside the United States.

JUAN GONZALEZ: General Michael Hayden refused to answer questions during the public portion of the hearing on a number of issues, including interrogation methods, secret CIA prisons, and the true extent of the government surveillance program. But did he criticize the media for publishing stories based on what he described as inaccurate or illegal disclosures about the agency.

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN: CIA officers, dedicated as they are to serving their country honorably and well, deserved recognition of their efforts, and they also deserved not to have every action analyzed, second-guessed and criticized on the front pages of their morning paper. Accountability is one thing and a very valuable thing, and we will have it. But true accountability is not served by inaccurate, harmful or illegal public disclosures. I will draw a clear line between what we owe the American public by way of openness and what must remain secret in order for us to continue to do our job.

AMY GOODMAN: Democratic Senator Carl Levin also questioned General Hayden about prewar intelligence concerning Iraq’s links to al-Qaeda.

SEN. CARL LEVIN: Prior to the war, the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Mr. Feith, established an intelligence analysis cell within his policy office at the Defense Department. While the intelligence community was consistently dubious about links between Iraq and al-Qaeda, Mr. Feith produced an alternative analysis asserting that there was a strong connection. Were you comfortable with Mr. Feith’s office’s approach to intelligence analysis?

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN: No, sir, I wasn’t. I wasn’t aware of a lot of the activity going on when it was contemporaneous with running up to the war. But no, sir, I wasn’t comfortable.

AMY GOODMAN: General Michael Hayden being questioned by Democratic Senator Carl Levin at the hearings that would confirm or not General Hayden to be the Director of the CIA.

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