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Former NSA Head Defends Surveillance Conducted by Intelligence Agencies

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Saturday, April 25th, 2015


Former NSA and CIA Chief Michael Hayden has strongly defended the surveillance tactics used by the American intelligence agencies. While speaking at the keynote address of the symposium “Cybersurveillance in the Post-Snowden Age” that was held at Washington and Lee School of Law in January, he explained how the surveillance scenario changed drastically in the wake of September’ 2001 terror attacks and redefined the search and seizure operations carried out by the intelligence agencies.

Speaking at the event, Hayden argued that while the 4th Amendment protects American citizens from unreasonable search and seizure, what the amendment forbids changed irrevocably post 911. In the aftermath of unprecedented attacks on the United States, intelligence agencies began to determine the reasonableness of their search and seizure operations by considering the totality of circumstances.

Hayden further stated that as the NSA leader, he was forced to do things differently and the strategies that looked unreasonable on 10th September’ 2001 started looking perfectly sound when over 3000 Americans lost their lives. He also added that he didn’t need to get any approval from the President or the Congress regarding the use of changed surveillance tactics since they were totally within his authority. As per Hayden, the 4th Amendment is a fluid document and the surveillance carried out by NSA and other agencies must be viewed through the lens of national security and prevention of terror attacks.

During the event, Hayden also talked about the leaks made by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. He accused Snowden of distorting the facts regarding signal intelligence and what constitutes an unreasonable search and seizure operation under the ambit of US Constitution. He also added that privacy activists and general public are not seeing the big picture as far as the matter of surveillance is concerned and urged them to reassess the leaks made by Snowden in the context of national security.

While putting forth his views, Hayden also talked about the history of surveillance and mentioned how NSA used to intercept communications originating from Soviet Union in the 20th century. He said that terrorists and other criminals are using common means of communications to spread their views and plan future attacks which is why it is necessary to monitor online communication.

While talking about privacy, Hayden said that privacy is like a line that we negotiate as individuals and social animals. As individuals, we have the right to keep things to ourselves but as social animals we have a responsibility to reveal information for the greater good of others.

The views put forward by Hayden clearly demonstrate that intelligence agencies still think that indulging in mass surveillance is nothing out of ordinary and is needed to prevent future terror attacks. It doesn’t matter to NSA that mass surveillance severely violates the fundamental rights of Americans and has not been able to prevent any major terror attack. This also shows that irrespective of the hue and cry raised by general public and privacy activists, mass surveillance is here to stay for a long, long time.


April 25, 2015
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