Never trust anyone to take a picture with you, Michael Hayden. (Image Source: Twitter)
Well, someone's cover got blown. The former chief of the National Security Agency, Michael Hayden, was uncovered giving interviews to journalists talking at length about the United States rendition program, as well as criticizing the administration of President Barack Obama's current handling of the NSA, on an Acela train by former political strategist Tom Matzzie. Matzzie went so far as to pose in a picture with Hayden, as to prove that Matzzie was there overhearing the conversation. Hayden has now gone on to claim that some of Matzzie's statements were "not specifically accurate," but the point remains: Hayden's carelessness, along with the brazen and ridiculous attitude of the NSA, proves that the NSA is not actually that good at spying.
Consider where Michael Hayden conducted these interviews: On an Amtrak Acela train, going to New York City (Hayden got off at Newark). The first lesson in any form of off-the-record interview, let alone "deep background," is to make sure nobody overhears you. If Hayden decided to conduct these interviews, say, over the phone in his office in New York, or at some high-class bar in DC, then there would be less of an issue. But Hayden conducted these interviews, "off the record," on a busy train. In addition, Hayden was in coach, which made it more than likely that dozens of people were able to hear him talk. And because Acela is used by a wide variety of people traveling between New York and Washington DC, including political figures such as Matzzie (who now runs a renewable energy firm), odds are people were going to be more inclined to hear what Hayden was saying.
Such lazy maneuvering on Michael Hayden's part reflects a broader culture at the NSA, where data mining for useless information seems paramount over solid intelligence for the military and executive branch and effective secrecy. After all, the NSA has been known, rather than hack computers, to just buy off the security exploits of computers to gain intelligence, and despite being a foreign intelligence agency, hands over data on Americans to the IRS and DEA for criminal investigations. NSA agents have been known to use their vast powers of surveillance to spy on lovers like a sleazy private eye from a 1950s detective novel. Hayden's interviews display a further demonstration of rank incompetence on the NSA's part, showing them more to bunglers than informers.