Former NSA head victim of “spying” on Amtrak, passenger tweets entire private convo with reporter

This story is just bizarre.  My friend Tom Matzzie was just taking the Acela Amtrak train, and who does he overhear sitting behind him having an “on background” conversation with a reporter, criticizing the Obama administration, but former National Security Agency (NSA) and CIA head Michael Hayden.

(“On background” means a reporter can use what you give them, but they can’t attribute it to you by name – often they’ll use the “senior administration official” name, or something similar.)

matzzie-michael-hayden-nsa

And to add to the fun, while Tom is now involved in the clean energy industry, he’s an old-time political hack, so he knew the value of what he was hearing.  So, he tweeted the conversation live!

In the end, Hayden figured out what was going on – someone apparently called him to let him know he was being live-transcribed.  Tom did get a photo with him, and Hayden agreed to an interview.  Which was pretty stand-up of him, considering.

It’s funny, I’ve been berated in the past for warning people about speaking in public about sensitive policy matters.  This isn’t the first time I’ve overheard people saying things they shouldn’t in this town (Al D’Amato’s evolving position on abortion, as a sitting US Senator, comes to mind, but that’s for another day).

Here’s Tom’s tweets, I’m a bit blown away by this. Some have raised the ethical question as to whether Tom should have tweeted anything. Then again, I suspect Angel Merkel and 70 million Frenchmen would have an opinion on this.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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15 Responses to “Former NSA head victim of “spying” on Amtrak, passenger tweets entire private convo with reporter”

  1. itsjustkathryn says:

    Find out how to generate 75 usd a day at your home. go here: surveymoneymaker dot net

  2. Badgerite says:

    Point taken. But no, I mean under the oversight of the FISA Court. What Angela Merkel is currently having a hissy fit about ( and I don’t know that I blame her) is an episode that happened during the Bush administration–according to the Guardian story, in 2006. During that time the only control or oversight of the NSA was, —-wait for it—–BUSH!

  3. trinu says:

    If by “reigning in” you mean expanding. Look at when they got access to most companies’ servers under the PRISM program; it happened on Obama’s watch.

  4. Clevelandchick says:

    I doubt they even consider us human beings, we’re just bricks in the wall.

  5. Frank Comment says:

    With like most tweeters and twits out there in bs land, who is able to confirm what was tweeted ? “overheariing” a conversations does not mean the actual conversation was tweeted. I have serious doubts as to the content of the tweets being 100% accurate.

  6. HeartlandLiberal says:

    This is a prime illustration of the arrogance of power and position that now characterizes our society. We have trended this way increasingly for the past 15 or more years. I see it not only in our political leadership, but in our corporate and business leadership, and even in the leadership style and actions e.g. of the major midwestern university where I worked and where I retired after 25 years. It is one of the key things that has taken our society and culture totally off the rails. It is the phenomenon of the 1% in action.

  7. Badgerite says:

    Sounds to me like he misses the days of the Bush Administration. Evidence that this administration and the ‘joke’ FISA Court have actually been reigning the NSA in, certainly, more than they were accustomed to in the Bush years.

  8. The_Fixer says:

    Wow, just Wow.

    Truly arrogantly boneheaded.

  9. caphillprof says:

    I think they really do consider the rest of us as lesser human beings.

  10. Indigo says:

    I think we all do “on background” conversations from time to time, I know I do and I’ve overheard others on the phone in the grocery story yammering away, but with a very big difference in play: we’re talking local gossip that’s not very resonant on the international stage. Those carefree dudes are yammering away about international crimes in which they are either implicated or have direct knowledge. That’s distressing enough but doubly distressing is that they’re incompetent enough to do that in a public venue. Good goblety grief!

  11. BeccaM says:

    That would speak to this particular mindset I’ve seen discussed here and there on the ‘Net in various essays exploring the psychology of “national security.”

    Some of it had to do with the “information entitlement” that overcomes those with security clearances and access to information and data that isn’t available to the general public. In some respects, this mentality is what fuels the desire to make more and more stuff ‘sensitive’ and ‘secret’, because “I have information and you don’t” becomes its own form of non-economic wealth.

    But apparently another common side-effect is those who engage in massive surveillance of others soon come to assume the themselves, by stint of being among the select elite in NatSec, are immune to uncontrolled observation.

    Then yes, there’s the rank incompetence of giving an ‘off-the-record’ interview on a crowded DC train. What the hell was Hayden thinking? That people wouldn’t overhear him simply because he wanted it to be so?

  12. And that he would go on background on a public train where everyone could hear him.

  13. Naja pallida says:

    Just more proof that the rot in our intelligence services isn’t with the analysts who are caught leaking things, but is instead from the top down. They’re as corrupt as the day is long, and don’t take their job seriously. It’s all status and money for the sake of power, and has nothing to do with serving their country at a time of war.

  14. BeccaM says:

    Brilliant.

    Although I’ll admit to both dismay and a lack of surprise that Hayden was ‘bragging’ about rendition and black sites. Both of which are considered international crimes, by the way.

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