Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

NSA Director: Civil Liberties Protected

Charles Nailen/The Hoya Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden spoke Tuesday in Gaston Hall defending the intelligence gathering methods of the NSA and other agencies.

The need for increased intelligence in the war on terrorism is not necessarily incompatible with civil liberties, the director of the National Security Agency, Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, said in a speech delivered Tuesday in Gaston Hall.

Hayden told students that Americans must find a new balance of “reasonableness” between the increasing need for surveillance of global terrorist networks and Americans’ right to privacy.

“A war is being waged against our country not because of anything we’ve done, but [because of] who we are,” Hayden said. Americans, he said, must be careful not to “erode our way of life” by sacrificing too many liberties in the defense of that way of life.

Hayden, who became NSA Director in 1999, has presided over an unprecedented campaign by the secretive agency to open itself to the public. This is being done partly to dispel fears that increased activity by intelligence-gathering agencies will result in privacy violations, Hayden said.

The campaign has taken on new significance since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, lead to greater surveillance powers for the NSA, he said.

The director said the American people must realize that they live in an age of global, intertwined telecommunications networks, in which innocent, everyday communications are often found in systems that terrorists use to contact each other.

He described the challenges of filtering a massive volume of information while developing new technologies to penetrate terrorist networks.

“In this new world, our nation’s adversaries don’t have to develop their own communications system – all they have to do is harness a $3 trillion a year telecommunications industry” in which new, “complex and varied” signals can obscure them from the NSA’s surveillance capabilities, Hayden said.

Hayden said he had his share of frustrations, especially with misunderstandings about the NSA’s surveillance capabilities.

“The actions of my agency are governed by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which protects you and me from unreasonable search and seizure,” he explained. “We are authorized only to collect information for foreign intelligence purposes.”

Hayden described a “very robust oversight” of the NSA by other executive agencies and Congress, as well as a “very closely regulated” system which requires a complete separation of protected communications – everyday telephone calls, e-mails and faxes – from target communications.

Some of the allegations of NSA privacy violations are so ridiculous as to “beggar the mind,” Hayden said.

He said the frustrations of the job seem insignificant, however, when remembering his pledge to ensure the safety of the American people after Sept. 11, 2001.

He recalled the events of that day, describing his horror at the news of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center and his orders to evacuate nonessential personnel from the NSA compound.

The NSA is a “garrison” agency, Hayden said, collecting and analyzing data from behind the lines.

“For the first time in my agency,” he said, “operating from garrison was not operating from safety.”

During the next meeting of the NSA leadership, Hayden told his staff that the security of the American people was paramount. “The nation expects a lot of us,” he said. “We will not defend ourselves at the expense of our ability to defend the nation.”

He recalled his challenge to NSA employees to help fulfill his pledge that “we will keep America free by making Americans feel safe again.”

Hayden also sought to reassure his audience that the U.S.A. Patriot Act has not changed the basic privacy protections, which Americans have enjoyed. The most important aspect of the act, he said, is its lowering of the wall between foreign intelligence and domestic law enforcement. This removes many of the administrative barriers which complicate information sharing and requests for surveillance warrants regarding terrorist suspects in the United States.

Hayden called the increased information flow between law enforcement and foreign intelligence “a good trade-off” because of the dangers posed by America’s enemies.

Hayden said the NSA must constantly adapt to new situations and systems. He stated that while U.S. intelligence was familiar with the one dedicated network of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, modern terrorists have infiltrated the much larger multinational communications system.

“The communications of those who would do you harm are out there existing with your communications on the same international telecommunications system,” he said.

The director reserved perhaps his most candid defense of the NSA respect for citizens’ privacy for last, however.

When asked by a student about further NSA safeguards against lawbreaking and litigation due to privacy violations, Hayden replied, “We have a frightful number of lawyers.”

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