Wallace, But Not Stephanopoulos, Raises National Security Damage from Leaks

Michael Hayden, Deputy Director of National Intelligence, appeared on both Fox News Sunday and This Week with George Stephanopoulos, but though at a Senate hearing just three days earlier Hayden and other intelligence officials had cited the potential damage caused by the New York Times story disclosing the program to eavesdrop on al-Qaeda communication inside the U.S., only Fox's Chris Wallace raised the subject. Stephanopoulos was more interested in himself as a potential victim of big brother: “Let me try to give you a hypothetical, see if you can answer it. I went to Pakistan after 9/11. I interviewed a Taliban representative. If after that interview, that person calls me, am I captured?” Wallace asked: "You and other top officials say that disclosure of this program has harmed national security. Do you mean that just in theory, or in fact? Has publication of the New York Times story, to the best of your reckoning, actually changed the way terrorists do business? Do you feel that they're acting differently since this story broke out?" Hayden would only say that the success of American intelligence “is not immune from the disclosure of its techniques and procedures to our enemy." (Brief transcripts follow.)

A February 2 NewsBusters item, “CBS Highlights CIA Chief’s Rebuke of Damaging Leaks; ABC Skips, NBC Barely Touches,” recounted: ABC and NBC, on Thursday night, didn’t find CIA Director Porter Goss’s lambasting of leakers and the news media, for publicizing secret information, very newsworthy....CBS reporter David Martin pointed out how “the leak that dominated the hearing was the New York Times story about the National Security Agency's warrantless eavesdropping on suspected al-Qaeda operatives inside the U.S.” Roberts also highlighted how “CIA Director Goss delivered a tirade against news leaks." But ABC’s World News Tonight ignored the topic completely...while NBC’s Andrea Mitchell allocated a mere eleven seconds to how the intelligence officials "claim the leaks about domestic eavesdropping have already disrupted valuable operations against terrorists," compared to nearly three times more time -- 29 seconds -- to how “Democrats were outraged that the administration still won't provide more details about its domestic spying" as well as how the administration won’t “say how many people are being wiretapped."

Hayden appeared from Detroit on the February 5 Fox News Sunday. Chris Wallace asked him at one point:
“You and other top officials say that disclosure of this program has harmed national security. Do you mean that just in theory, or in fact? Has publication of the New York Times story, to the best of your reckoning, actually changed the way terrorists do business? Do you feel that they're acting differently since this story broke out?”

Hayden: “Very, very difficult for me to answer that on several dimensions, Chris. One is terrorist communications are a very large and complex universe, and it may take some time to develop trend lines. The other point is even if we had such information, it wouldn't be profitable for me to discuss it in an open forum. I will say this: Success of what NSA -- of what all American intelligence does -- is not immune from the disclosure of its techniques and procedures to our enemy.”

On ABC's This Week, where Stephanopoulos had conducted his interview earlier in a conference room where Haydn works, Stephanopoulos posed a wide range of questions, but none about the damage caused by the news media. He did, however, find time to personalize the controversy around himself:
Stephanopoulos: “Let me try to give you a hypothetical, see if you can answer it. I went to Pakistan after 9/11. I interviewed a Taliban representative. If after that interview, that person calls me, am I captured?”

Hayden: “I can't get into operational details, but the way we do this is based on the people most knowledgeable of al Qaeda, its communications, its intentions, its tactics, techniques, and procedures. And so we really don't have the time or the resources, the linguists to, to, to linger, to go after things that aren't going to protect the homeland.”

Stephanopoulos: “So even if, for example, I'm captured for some reason, detected for some reason, you'd discard it?”

Hayden: “Well, we collect signals intelligence. This is lawfully collected signals intelligence. If you're not relevant, if the intercept isn't relevant and this doesn't require the president's order to make us do this, if the intercept isn't relevant, we don't need it. We move on. We go on to those things that actually help us accomplish the mission.”

Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center