Former head of CIA and NSA neglects his tradecraft: Stranger on a train hears retired spy chief Michael Hayden’s secrets
Tim Walker is The Independent’s Los Angeles correspondent, covering entertainment and other concerns from the West Coast of the US. He was previously a features writer and the editor of the paper’s diary column. His first novel, Completion, was published in 2014.
Friday 25 October 2013
It seems the former boss of the CIA and NSA has neglected his tradecraft in retirement.
Michael Hayden, the director of the National Security Agency from 1999 to 2005, was overheard making a private telephone call on a busy commuter train, by a progressive activist who live-tweeted his conversation.
On Thursday afternoon, Mr Hayden boarded an Acela train from Washington DC to Newark. Unbeknownst to him, he was seated behind Tom Matzzie, the former Washington director of MoveOn.org Political Action, a liberal campaigning group. When Mr Hayden began speaking on his phone to an unknown journalist, Mr Matzzie quickly identified him.
“On Acela listening to former NSA spy boss Michael Hayden give ‘off record’ interviews,” Matzzie tweeted. “I feel like I’m in the NSA. Except I’m in public.”
The exchange appeared to be a background interview on revelations that the NSA had been monitoring telephone lines of at least 35 world leaders. As his tweets went viral, Mr Matzzie claimed Mr Hayden had been “bashing” the Obama administration, and “bragging about rendition and black sites”.
In 2006, Mr Hayden was appointed CIA director by George W Bush, a post he held until February 2009. In 2008, he became the first administration official to acknowledge the agency’s use of waterboarding.
As Mr Matzzie listened, the former spy chief reportedly discussed Barack Obama’s use of a BlackBerry smartphone, which he suggested had put the President’s personal communications at risk. The NSA had modified the device to secure it against foreign eavesdropping, he said.
Asked why he chose to make the conversation public, Mr Matzzie told New York magazine, “He was 7-8ft away talking very loudly. I thought the former head of NSA attacking the president on background was lame. Say it in a book like everyone else.”
Mr Hayden told The Washington Post that Mr Matzzie had misinterpreted his words, describing the tweets as a “[bullshit] story from a liberal activist sitting two seats from me... hearing intermittent snatches of conversation.”
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