Just in case the cognitive dissonance wasn’t already large enough on the story-and-counterstory around programs such as XKEYSCORE and PRISM, formed NSA head Michael Hayden jumps into the ring:
Last week, the Guardian published a series of leaked documents revealing new details about an NSA surveillance program called XKEYSCORE. The newspaper said that the program enabled the agency to “search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals,” and secret slides dated 2008 showed how people could be deemed a target for searching the Web for “suspicious stuff” or by using encryption.
Following the disclosures, Hayden appeared on CNN to discuss the agency’s surveillance programs. The general, who directed the NSA from 1999 through 2005, was remarkably candid in his responses to Erin Burnett’s questions about the Guardian’s XKEYSCORE report. Was there any truth to claims that the NSA is sifting through millions of browsing histories and able to collect virtually everything users do on the Internet? “Yeah,” Hayden said. “And it’s really good news.”
Not only that, Hayden went further. He revealed that the XKEYSCORE was “a tool that’s been developed over the years, and lord knows we were trying to develop similar tools when I was at the National Security Agency.” The XKEYSCORE system, Hayden said, allows analysts to enter a “straight-forward question” into a computer and sift through the “oceans of data” that have been collected as part of foreign intelligence gathering efforts.
How this process works was illustrated in the Guardian’s report.