Original Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2006/may/18/usa?INTCMP=SRCH

A US government eavesdropping programme that listens in on the phone calls and emails of thousands of American citizens is perfectly legal, the White House’s nominee for head of the CIA said today.
Michael Hayden, the former director of the National Security Agency (NSA), told a congressional committee that there had been no question of refusing when President Bush requested the controversial programme in October 2001. “The math was pretty straightforward. I could not not do this,” he said.

The wiretaps, which were set up without official court warrants, were needed to gain an understanding of al-Qaida activity in the US, Mr Hayden said.

“We have a very strong oversight regime,” he said. “Targeting decisions are made by people in the US government most knowledgeable about al-Qaida, al-Qaida communications, tactics and procedures.

“There is a probable cause standard. Every targeting is documented. No one has said there has been a targeting decision made that hasn’t been well-founded.”

Mr Hayden was being grilled by the senate intelligence committee considering his nomination as director of the CIA, following the departure of Porter Goss earlier this month.

In his role as director of the NSA he had been responsible for overseeing the wiretap programme, which has attracted widespread criticism in the US and was characterised as illegal by former president Jimmy Carter in February.

The secretive NSA is responsible for intercepting and analysing vast quantities of electronic communications, and is believed to be the largest of America’s intelligence agencies despite the fact that its existence was little discussed until the late 1990s.

Last week USA Today reported that the NSA had collected a massive database of the call records of tens of million Americans, having had the information provided by US phone companies.

Democratic senator Carl Levin queried Mr Hayden’s sanguine view of the wiretapping issue. “It’s not hard to see how Americans could feel that their privacy has been intruded upon if the government has … a database of phone numbers calling and being called by tens of millions of Americans who are not suspected of any wrongdoing.”

But Mr Hayden said that security was the primary issue. “Clearly the privacy of American citizens is a concern constantly,” he said. “We always balance privacy and security.”

He said that intelligence-gathering had now become a political football, and promised that he would “speak truth to power” – an allusion to concerns that the desire to justify the 2003 Iraq war caused a decline in the independence of intelligence reports.

The CIA’s prestige has taken several blows in recent years, from the initial failure to pre-empt the September 11 attacks, to the politicisation of intelligence before the Iraq war, to the appointment of former US ambassador John Negroponte as director of intelligence in 2005.

The newly-created post meant that Mr Negroponte had overall leadership of the US intelligence community, a position that had previously gone to the CIA director. Mr Hayden served as Mr Negroponte’s deputy after he left the NSA in 2005.
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 18 May 2006 20.03 BST

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