Q Munk Debate Preview - Jian Ghomeshi talks with Michael Hayden and Glenn Greenwald
Still on the Munk Debate, laying down a record. Stepping backward in time now to the morning of the debate, when both Michael Hayden and Glenn Greenwald were interviewed by Jian Ghomeshi on Q. Hayden was interviewed by phone, Greenwald was in Studio Q with Ghomeshi.
The interview with Hayden fascinates me. You know how it is when you're looking in a mirror and trying to make your hands move right but they keep going wrong, and then you just stop and stare?
JG: Before I let you go, Michael, and I get to Glenn here, I mean, you just took, you seem to take umbrage at me suggesting Russia and China, or putting, you said, Russia and China in the same sentences as the United States. One of the revelations from Snowden’s leaks is that large amounts of electronic data were collected domestically on citizens in Canada and in the U.S., for instance, and a lot of people would see that equation with the kind of surveillance that happens in Russia and China. Why should we trust organizations like the NSA or CSIS in Canada to not abuse that power?
MH: Or CSEC, your NSA equivalent. Well, number one, because they’re overseen by democratic governments. But again, I have to – what is the reference, to large electronic surveillance of the American population?
MH: I know, but what is it you say we’re doing?
JG: Well, the Snowden leaks.
MH: Well, what about the Snowden leaks?
MH: What specifically? The phone bills?
JG: Are you s–
MH: The metadata program?
JG: I’m – tell me what you’re suggesting.
MH: Well, I’m suggesting that there is no large-scale surveillance of the American population by the American intelligence services.
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Is state spying for our own good?
A Munk Debate Preview with Michael Hayden and Glenn Greenwald
Q with Jian Ghomeshi, CBC
May 2, 2014
Jian Ghomeshi: Well, it’s been almost one year since NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden released classified information that shed light on massive global spying programs. Those leaks not only put the spotlight on various spy agencies, including Canada, Britain and particularly in the United States, they also started an international conversation on the role of state surveillance and privacy rights. So it’s perhaps no surprise that the latest Munk Debates, a biannual forum for discussing timely issues, are addressing this very topic.
“Be it resolved that state surveillance is a legitimate defense of our freedoms.” That’s the controversial proposition up for discussion this evening in Toronto, and here with me today for a preview of tonight’s debate are two of the four speakers participating. Joining me in Studio Q is award-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald. He’s currently with the online outlet First Look Media but has reported Snowden’s leaks as a columnist for the Guardian, earning that publication a Pulitzer Prize for his work. He’ll be arguing against the resolution tonight. Hello, Glenn Greenwald.
Glenn Greenwald: Hi.
Jian Ghomeshi: Nice to have you here. I’m going to get to you, but first, in defense of state surveillance and its role in maintaining individual freedoms, Michael Hayden joins me on the line. He’s a retired four-star general, former director of both the CIA and the NSA, and he currently works for a high-profile security consultancy firm based in Washington, D.C. Hello, Michael.
Michael Hayden: Hey, good morning.
Jian Ghomeshi: Thanks very much for doing this. Michael, let me start with you. The terms “surveillance” and “freedom” seem inherently at odds. Give us a preview of your pitch for tonight. Why is state surveillance important to the maintenance of freedom, in your view?
Michael Hayden: Sure. One of the first responsibilities of government, you know, in our founding documents in the United States, we said we actually organized our government for the preservation of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. All three of those are values. It’s sometimes challenging to balance those values, but they’re values, they’re all good. States have to be sufficiently strong to protect their citizens, otherwise the state really has no foundation on which to exist. On the other hand, the way the state goes about that has to be a way that doesn’t put the other values, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, at undue risk either. But this is a balance. And when states fail in surveillance and states fail to protect their people, even people with a deep democratic tradition like Canadians and Americans then demand of their states even more intrusive activities in order to keep them safe. So I used to tell our workforce that we’re not just keeping America safe by protecting it, we’re keeping America free.
Jian Ghomeshi: Well, let me ask you about this foundation that you are protecting, or that we will be protecting with state surveillance. I mean, just to be clear, how do you define freedom in this context? What sort of freedom does state surveillance protect, and where does something like online freedom fit into this?
Michael Hayden: Well, we all have a sense of privacy. We all have a right to privacy. But, you know, I’ve, actually, you know, in a conference in Vancouver about a year ago, I said privacy is that line, that line under constant negotiation between ourselves as a unique creature of God and ourselves as social animals. There are some things we absolutely have a right to keep private and secret. There are other things that the collective has a right to know in order to keep – for a higher good. I mean (laughs) I have to bring up an unhappy topic during tax season here, but your government and mine has incredibly intrusive knowledge of every dollar we make, how we made it, and who paid it to us. That’s actually an invasion of privacy too, but we all more or less accept it because there’s a broad social purpose for it. The same thing with regard to security.
Jian Ghomeshi: I guess the question is how far do we go, obviously, and in terms of... [crosstalk]
Michael Hayden: Oh, of course...
Jian Ghomeshi: ... trying to achieve that higher good.
Michael Hayden: ...how far you go, and that’s why my Constitution protects citizens of the United States against unreasonable search and seizure. Now, what constitutes reasonable may be a reflection of the technology available at the time, may be a reflection of the conditions of threat under which the nation might be at any particular time. But it’s the reasonableness standard that determines what is or is not in the box, so to speak.
Jian Ghomeshi: You were the director of the CIA and the principal deputy director at the NSA and presided over contentious security programs that had a wide reach. You said that you grew concerned over America’s ability to keep secrets during that time. How did privacy rights impact you from doing your job collecting information then?
Michael Hayden: No, that challenge wasn’t a challenge about privacy rights. That challenge about America’s ability to keep secrets. Look, here’s, when I was director of CIA, I actually asked some prominent civilians to, to, to actually address this question, could the United States conduct espionage? And let me point out, all nations conduct espionage. We’re actually pretty good at it. It’s not a new thing for us. Our first spy chief was George Washington. All right. The question, though, was, could the United States continue to conduct espionage, a legitimate state activity, inside a broader political culture that every day demanded more transparency and more public accountability from every aspect of national life? And these wise folks went away and studied the problem for me for three or four months and came back with a very profound answer: They weren’t sure. And so here’s an activity which we have traditionally relied on to keep ourselves safe and free, an activity that, frankly, thrives with secrecy and is threatened by transparency, one that’s been viewed as essential for the 2+ centuries of our distance. But we are now moving into a political culture that is very uncomfortable with anything being beyond the view of everybody.
Jian Ghomeshi: But are you sure where the line is? I mean, where – if you could put it in simple terms, where do we draw the line on state surveillance, or do you even think there should be a line that we identify?
Michael Hayden: Well, there are clear lines. I mean, one line right now, for example – and the American system is different from the Canadian system, our being presidential, your parliamentary, three separate coequal branches of government. In the United States, for example, the line with regard to targeting a U.S. person, I mean to aggressively pursuing the communications of someone who is protected by our Fourth Amendment, that requires the intervention of the court. On the other hand, targeting the communications of someone who is not protected by the Fourth Amendment but who is otherwise a legitimate foreign intelligence target, that’s under the broad guidance of the president of the United States. But in both cases you’ve got to have a good reason for doing this. There has to be a connection to a legitimate foreign intelligence need. We don’t do this for prurient interests.
Jian Ghomeshi: Let me see. Maybe I can ask the question in a different way. I mean, we tend to associate, or at least traditionally we have, until the last couple of years, state surveillance, particularly of its own citizens, with countries like Russia or China, ones that we’ve talked about not being democratic. What does state surveillance -- when does state surveillance start to violate the rights that we expect in a democratic society –
Michael Hayden: Well –
Jian Ghomeshi: -- and how can we be certain to prevent that?
Michael Hayden: Yeah, I’m sorry. I’m going to have to turn the question back on you. You just lumped my country in with those countries. Let me ask you, what of current American activity reminds you of those countries?
Jian Ghomeshi: Well, actually my question was, how do we prevent that?
Michael Hayden: Ah. So you don’t have a presumption of guilt. Good. Makes it a more interesting conversation. What you do, how you prevent it in the madisonian system under which we operate, is to bring all three competing but coequal branches of government into the process, and the most controversial program we have right now is something called the 215 program out of the Patriot Act, which is our government being in possession, in essence, of American phone bills. That program has been authorized by two consecutive presidents, really different in their personality, legislated by Congress and reauthorized by Congress by bipartisan majorities, and overseen by the federal court system in the FISA court. For Americans, that’s the constitutional trifecta. I’ve got all three branches of government saying this is good to go, and traditionally that has been sufficient for Americans to have confidence in what their government’s doing. Now, I freely admit, back to that cultural change – I mean, a lot of Americans, and not just the wingnuts, but a lot of solid thinking Americans are saying, “Okay, you told the court, you told the Congress, and the president obviously knew, but you didn’t tell me.” And that’s a new question. That’s a new dynamic. Their view is what I’ve just described for you in this new equation is that’s the consent of the governors. It’s not the consent of the governed. Now the question we have as a free people going forward is how do you conduct something that by its very nature needs to be secret to succeed and still create the comfort level in a broader political culture that’s demanding so much transparency? That’s hard work for us.
Jian Ghomeshi: Before I let you go, Michael, and I get to Glenn here, I mean, you just took, you seem to take umbrage at me suggesting Russia and China, or putting, you said, Russia and China in the same sentences as the United States. One of the revelations from Snowden’s leaks is that large amounts of electronic data were collected domestically on citizens in Canada and in the U.S., for instance, and a lot of people would see that equation with the kind of surveillance that happens in Russia and China. Why should we trust organizations like the NSA or CSIS in Canada to not abuse that power?
Michael Hayden: Or CSEC, your NSA equivalent. Well, number one, because they’re overseen by democratic governments. But again, I have to – what is the reference, to large electronic surveillance of the American population?
Jian Ghomeshi: Yes.
Michael Hayden: I know, but what is it you say we’re doing?
Jian Ghomeshi: Well, the Snowden leaks.
Michael Hayden: Well, what about the Snowden leaks?
Michael Hayden: What specifically? The phone bills?
Jian Ghomeshi: Are you s–
Michael Hayden: The metadata program?
Jian Ghomeshi: I’m – tell me what you’re suggesting.
Michael Hayden: Well, I’m suggesting that there is no large-scale surveillance of the American population by the American intelligence services. Now. Do American intelligence services ever listen to an American in conversation? Of course they do. When we’re targeting someone overseas who is a legitimate foreign intelligence target and that legitimate target actually talks to a protected or a U.S. person, NSA has had every right to continue to cover that conversation. And that’s not George Bush, that’s not Barack Obama, that’s not the Patriot Act, that’s the way it’s been since NSA has been founded in 1952. That’s not new.
By the way, if you do become party to a communication, a legitimate foreign intelligence target communication that contains information to, from or about a U.S. person, and by policy a Canadian person – not by law but by policy, although you’re allowed to cover the communication, you are also required to protect the privacy of the Canadian or the American by suppressing their identity except in those very specific cases when that identity is actually the intelligence.
So, I mean there’s an awful lot of bumper stickers out there about mass surveillance and so on, and I suspect tonight we’ll get into the fine print. And look, at the end of this, I get it. Someone may say. “That’s an interesting explanation, Hayden, I kind of see why you’re doing it. I still don’t like it and I want you to stop.” I got it. That’s what free people do all the time, back to the original point, life, liberty, pursuit of happiness. We have to keep them in balance.
Jian Ghomeshi: Michael Hayden, thanks for this. I know a lot of people are looking forward to the debate tonight. Have fun.
Michael Hayden: Okay, thank you.
Jian Ghomeshi: Bye bye.
Michael Hayden: Bye.
Jian Ghomeshi: Michael Hayden, former director for both the CIA and the NSA, and currently works for the security consultancy The Chertoff Group in Washington, D.C. He’s also one of the participants at this evening’s Munk Debate, the event on this controversial topic of state surveillance.
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Jian Ghomeshi: So that’s one side of the argument. We spent exactly 10 minutes on that. Let me get to my next guest and give him 10 minutes. Investigative journalist and former Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald, who is in Studio Q.
Jian Ghomeshi: Hello, Glenn.
Glenn Greenwald: Good morning.
Jian Ghomeshi: You’ve been listening in?
Glenn Greenwald: I have.
Jian Ghomeshi: What is your first – I’ve got some questions for you, but what’s your first reaction to what you’ve been listening in to?
Glenn Greenwald: Well, as you indicated, General Hayden was the chief of both the NSA and the CIA during the most radical abuses of the war on terror and is very adept at presenting a public image of these programs that is wildly at odds with the actual reality that takes place in the dark, and unfortunately for General Hayden, but fortunately for the rest of the world, we now have for the first time the actual evidence of what it is that this surveillance system is, and it’s not this reasonable, targeted, discriminating system that targets terrorists, it is instead a system of suspicionless surveillance that puts entire populations, hundreds of millions if not billions people who have done nothing wrong, under a microscope and stores and monitors and analyzes their communications. And not a single word that he said, even if you want to assume it’s all true, remotely justifies that.
Jian Ghomeshi: You’ve said that a surveillance state is menacing to basic political liberties. Before we get into that, in your view, what is the difference between state surveillance, which is the topic of this debate, and a surveillance state?
Glenn Greenwald: State surveillance can be perfectly legitimate, everybody including me and including Edward Snowden and everybody else who’s been critical of the NSA readily acknowledges. Everybody wants governments to be listening in on the conversations, to the extent they can, of Osama bin Laden and his associates. That is targeted, legitimate surveillance. A surveillance state by contrast is a society which decrees that there is no such thing as individual privacy, that all communications that take place by and between other human beings are the business of the state, that the state both can and should invade those communications at will. That is a society in which we as Americans live, as Canadians live, and now the rest of the world as well.
Jian Ghomeshi: And when does one become the other?
Glenn Greenwald: When it ceases to be targeted, discriminating surveillance directed at people who are actually doing something wrong, it becomes a mass indiscriminate system that targets everybody.
Jian Ghomeshi: You’re a long-time privacy proponent. You’ve built a reputation as a critic of large-scale state surveillance, particularly after your work reporting on the Snowden leaks. In your view, here’s the broad question, how does state surveillance impact our individual freedoms?
Glenn Greenwald: People often like to be dismissive of privacy. They say things like, “Well, if you’ve done nothing wrong, you should have nothing to hide,” and yet all of us, including the people who say that, fully understand instinctively how central privacy is to human freedom. We all put passwords on our e-mail accounts and our social media accounts. We put locks on our bedroom and our bathroom doors. We do all sorts of things when we think nobody is watching, from trivial acts like singing songs or dancing, to more substantive acts like discussing things with lawyers and psychologists that we would never want other people to know. There is an entire world of behavior as human beings that we want to keep completely private that has nothing to do with, quote, doing something wrong. It is only when we can act without prying eyes casting judgment upon us, can we engage in human exploration or dissent or creativity or what it means to be a free individual. When you take that away, when you subject all forms of human communication and action to the knowing eyes of the state, whether they’re watching or not, the mere possibility that they can be, we lose enormous amounts of what it means to be a free individual because we start engaging in conduct that we think other people want us to engage in as opposed to the conduct that we ourselves choose to.
Jian Ghomeshi: Talk to me specifically about the internet. In past interviews you talked about how the internet was an important space for you to develop your own identity and politics. How is that at risk here?
Glenn Greenwald: One of the crucial liberating aspects of the internet that made it so unique when it first emerged was the ability to explore anonymously. You could go and read things that you wouldn’t want other people knowing you’re reading. You could go and say things or talk to other people that you wouldn’t want anyone else knowing that you’re doing. You could explore all sorts of parts of the world that you might be inhibited or otherwise embarrassed to think about and interact with. The only way that works, let alone the more substantive value of being able to organize political dissent and political activism in opposition to those in power, the only way all of that works is if you can do it with pure freedom and without people knowing what it is you’re doing. Once you turn the internet, you degrade the internet, from this free wilderness of ways to explore and to engage in creativity, into a system of mass coercive surveillance unlike anything that humanity has ever known before, you degrade the internet from an instrument of great freedom and creativity into one of great social control, and that’s what the NSA is doing.
Jian Ghomeshi: But we already don’t – we don’t have pure freedom, we don’t have that autonomy. I mean, we’ve talked about it dozens of times on this show. You know, you use your credit card at a store and your information goes everywhere. We already give away loads of information online knowingly, unknowingly – why not in the name of security as well? What’s the difference there for you?
Glenn Greenwald: There is a massive difference.between using your credit card to purchase a shirt or a pair of shoes at a mall and having one single credit card company or bank know about that one discrete transaction, and then going and making a phone call where one telephone company knows about the call that you made, and having these discrete and isolated instances of people and companies knowing what you’ve done, and having on the other hand one centralized repository where every single thing that you do in your life electronically is stored and monitored, which is what a surveillance state is. There are definitely threats to privacy that come from corporate gathering of data, but there is a radically different kind of threat, a worse threat when it’s the state that gathers everything. It is the state that can put you in prison, that can deprive you of your property, in the United States even deprive you of your life, in a way that corporations can’t do, which is what makes surveillance in the hands of the state so much more dangerous.
Jian Ghomeshi: To pick up on what Michael Hayden was saying or insinuating, as much as we want our e-mails to be private, we also want to remain safe, and some would say we’d be naïve not to point out that national and international threats exist. There was 9/11, the Boston bombing, last year in Canada two men were arrested in connection with a planned attack on a Via Rail train in Toronto. Can there exist a balance between protection and freedom, and if so, what does that look like for you?
Glenn Greenwald: Sure. I mean, first of all, very easily you can have the state target those people who belong to radical groups, who are seemingly plotting to engage in terrorist attacks, without subjecting the communications of every single human being in the society and on the planet to this form of massive state surveillance. But the more important –
Jian Ghomeshi: How do you do that? The state surveillance becomes more targeted, is that the idea?
Glenn Greenwald: Yeah, it becomes more targeted. You listen in to members who love Al Qaeda or people who are associating with members of terrorist organizations using traditional means of intelligence and law enforcement, rather than having this ubiquitous system of suspicionless surveillance, which is what we now have. But the other important thing to realize here is terrorism is a word that packs an incredibly potent emotional punch. I was in Manhattan on 9/11. To this day if someone mentions 9/11 I remember all those emotions. But as citizens it’s our responsibility to rationally assess these risks and not to let ourselves be fearmongered, which is what people like General Hayden like to do. The reality is that terrorism is a thing the U.S. government uses to justify everything it has done, from torture to Guantanamo to rendition to invading Iraq – it’s a tactic, it’s a slogan, and not a rational argument. This surveillance program has very little to do with actual terrorism. It’s directed at oil companies like Petrobras in Brazil, or banking systems, or entire populations that have nothing to do with national security threats.
Jian Ghomeshi: Got one minute left with you here. Let me ask you a big question. Actually, do I have one m—yeah, I have one minute left. We often hear about and we talk about the end of privacy. Are you hopeful that we could actually reverse the idea that we no longer have privacy?
Glenn Greenwald: Absolutely. And I think that’s one of the reasons why the world owes such a debt of gratitude to Edward Snowden. His disclosures, done so heroically and self-sacrificingly, have enabled us to know the threat that is now posed to our privacy in a way that we didn’t know before, which in turn lets us take all sorts of steps to reestablish privacy, whether it’s using encryption technology, making it more user friendly, demanding that our governments protect our privacy rather than invade it. There is a major debate, as you indicated, and all sorts of reform movements designed to do just that, and we now have the tools as a result of these disclosures to do that.
Jian Ghomeshi: Good to have you here.
Glenn Greenwald: Great to be here.
Jian Ghomeshi: Have a stimulating debate tonight.
Glenn Greenwald: Thank you.
Jian Ghomeshi: Glenn Greenwald, investigative journalist, columnist for First Look Media. He’s been with me here in Studio Q. Michael Hayden, former director of both the CIA and NSA joined me online from Toronto as well. They’re both participating in this evening’s Munk Debate, an event on the very timely and highly contested topic of state surveillance. The event is sold out but it will be livestreamed at the website munkdebates.com.
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Other CBC pre-debate coverage:
- CBC News, May 02, 2014, State surveillance under microscope, Journalist Glenn Greenwald, former NSA head Michael Hayden weigh in on privacy and spying
- Lang & O'Leary Exchange, May 2, 2014, The threat to privacy, Glenn Greenwald on public complacency about privacy