Former Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden admitted that the agency has often used metadata for killing people. The claim came during a recent debate at John Hopkins University on the NSA’s untethered surveillance programs, which came to light via the revelations of Edward Snowden. The statement comes around the 18 minute mark in the video below.
Hayden made the remark after saying he agreed with the idea that metadata – the information collected by the NSA about phone calls and other communications that does not include content – can tell the government “everything” about anyone it’s targeting for surveillance, often making the actual content of the communication unnecessary.
“[That] description… is absolutely correct. We kill people based on metadata. But that’s not what we do with this metadata,” said Hayden, apparently referring to domestic metadata collection. “It’s really important to understand the program in its entirety. Not the potentiality of the program, but how the program is actually conducted.”
“So NSA gets phone records, gets them from the telephone company, been getting them since October of 2001 from one authority or another, puts them in a lockbox… and under very strict limitations can access the lockbox,” Hayden said and then described a hypothetical situation in which a number connected to a terrorist could be run against the metadata already collected to help investigators find additional leads in the name of national security.
“What it cannot do are all those things that… allows someone to create your social network, your social interactions, your patterns of behavior. One could make the argument that could be useful, [or] that could be illegal, but it’s not done,” he said. “In this debate, it’s important to distinguish what might be done with what is being done.”
I wonder just how many people are feeling ok about all that bulk metadata being collected, which the NSA says Americans have nothing to worry about.
According to Georgetown University Law Center professor David Cole, who laid out the details of the kinds of information obtained by the government through the use of metadata:
Of course knowing the content of a call can be crucial to establishing a particular threat. But metadata alone can provide an extremely detailed picture of a person’s most intimate associations and interests, and it’s actually much easier as a technological matter to search huge amounts of metadata than to listen to millions of phone calls. As NSA General Counsel Stewart Baker has said, “metadata absolutely tells you everything about somebody’s life. If you have enough metadata, you don’t really need content.” When I quoted Baker at a recent debate at Johns Hopkins University, my opponent, General Michael Hayden, former director of the NSA and the CIA, called Baker’s comment “absolutely correct,” and raised him one, asserting, “We kill people based on metadata.”
Cole referenced the USA Freedom Act in his article. Though he laid out many positive things about the bill, he eventually wrote, “Even with all these reforms, however, the USA Freedom Act only skims the surface. It does not address, for example, the NSA’s guerilla-like tactics of inserting vulnerabilities into computer software and drivers, to be exploited later to surreptitiously intercept private communications. It also focuses exclusively on reining in the NSA’s direct spying on Americans. As Snowden’s disclosures have shown, the NSA collects far more private information on foreigners—including the content as well as the metadata of e-mails, online chats, social media, and phone calls—than on US citizens.”
He also warns “the biggest mistake any of us could make would be to conclude that this bill solves the problem.”
The issue of the use of drones and assassinations, which would be determined from metadata gathered by the NSA, came up last year during Senator Rand Paul’s (R-KY) filibuster over the confirmation of John Brennan to head the CIA. Paul was specifically asking Attorney General Eric Holder and Barack Obama is they believed they had the authority to assassinate American citizens on US soil. While some like South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham thought Paul’s filibuster was “ridiculous,” others of us understood that there are serious constitutional issues and very dangerous implications for this kind of thinking.
Lest you think that Brennan and company wouldn’t think of doing such things, understand that John Brennan advised Barack Obama on his kill list as Obama’s first assassination czar. Brennan would not limit the scope of assassinations to the battlefield, nor to places like Afghanistan.
However, some may think Brennan’s claim seems to be out of line with the answer AG Holder gave to Senator Paul. Holder wrote, “‘Does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on an American soil.’ The answer is ‘No.‘”
Let’s just be careful and parse out the fact that Holder referenced the “president” and his “authority,” not that of John Brennan. I realize that Brennan is to act upon the authority of the president. However, whose authority was being acted on when the CIA was involved in what they were doing in Benghazi? Hmmm?
John Brennan is a convert to Islam and he now is the director of the CIA, having been confirmed, even with the largest “No” votes in US history. He was sworn in using the Constitution without the Bill of Rights, not a Bible. He has been at the center of the controversy over the Benghazi scandal when it was learned that the Brennan sent letters in an attempt to silence witnesses and agents, even threatening agents’ families, and he is known for being a “bully of epic dimensions.”
One thing is for certain, we cannot trust this administration when it comes to anything it says or does. What we can do is assume that everything they say is a lie and act accordingly. If these things were going on under Hayden’s watch (He was NSA head from 1999 to 2005 and CIA director from 2006 to 2009) during the Bush years, what makes us think anything less corrupt is taking place during the current regime?
Tim Brown is the Editor of Freedom Outpost.