The U.S. government has no compunctions about carrying out extra-judicial killings and “kill[s] people based on metadata,” said the former head of the NSA, Michael Hayden, recently.
That terse admission came after the general said that he agreed with the idea that metadata is more than enough to lead to the targeting of groups and individuals based on the understanding that the government knows “everything” as a result of this data regardless of the content of the communications.
Metadata is a killer
“[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. For clarification, he was speaking hypothetically about the data that could be used to find more individuals connected to a terrorist based on existing metadata.
“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.”
Hayden was the NSA head from 1999 to 2005. Following his work there he left for the CIA and served the agency from 2006 to 2009.
The remarks from Hayden were a result of questioning by David Cole, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, during Johns Hopkins University’s Foreign Affairs Symposium. Cole asked Hayden if the comments made by President Barack Obama when the Snowden story broke that “Nobody is listening to your telephone calls” weren’t a touch “misleading.”
“They are not looking at people’s names, they’re not looking at content,” Obama said then. “But by sifting through this so-called metadata, they may identify potential leads with respect to folks who might engage in terrorism.”
Obama reverses course?
A half a year after Obama made those remarks, a panel was launched to investigate the validity of collecting metadata on Americans and came to the conclusion that the practice should stop….with caveats.
“We cannot discount the risk, in light of the lessons of our own history, that at some point in the future, high-level government officials will decide that this massive database of extraordinarily sensitive private information is there for the plucking,” the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies said in a 300-plus-page report.
Following the report, the president chose to heed the advice of the panel in a round about fashion. The metadata is still being collected, just not by the government. Another entity was created to store the data with the understanding that the government could ask to review it as it deems fit.
The next month, Obama complied, announcing the metadata will no longer be collected by the government, but will still be stored by another entity and could be subject to government review.