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Former NSA director Hayden's 'public' interview from train goes viral

| Friday, Oct. 25, 2013, 10:58 p.m.
Former spy director Michael Hayden's decision to speak so openly in public is raising eyebrows.

If only he had upgraded from coach to Amtrak's “quiet car.”

Perhaps Gen. Michael Hayden's humble North Side upbringing kept him from doing so aboard Acela No. 2170, bound for New York — a trip that grabbed national attention when a passenger nearby began tweeting information from Hayden's off-the-record phone interview with an unnamed reporter.

Tom Matzzie, a Mt. Lebanon native and the former Washington director of the liberal political group MoveOn.org, overheard the ex-CIA and National Security Agency director's conversation on Thursday and began live-posting on Twitter.

“Former NSA spy boss Michael Hayden on Acela behind me blabbing ‘on background as a former senior admin official,' ” Matzzie wrote. “Sounds defensive.”

Adam Bonin, a Philadelphia lawyer who works on free-speech and privacy cases, sees irony in a former spy director's decision to speak so openly in public.

“He is supposed to be more mindful than anyone else, in what is actually private and what isn't,” Bonin said. “He was in a pretty public place for that conversation.”

Hayden, who often grants the Tribune-Review interviews while traveling by train, could not be reached on Friday. Matzzie declined an interview request.

Hayden grew up in “The Ward,” a working-class neighborhood largely demolished in the late 1960s to accommodate Interstate 279 and Three Rivers Stadium. A street near Heinz Field bears his name. He graduated from North Catholic High School and Duquesne University long before becoming an Air Force four-star general and national security leader for President George W. Bush.

Matzzie's tweet at 4:20 p.m. — “On Acela: former NSA spy boss Michael Hayden just ended last of handful of interviews bashing admin.” — was retweeted more than 100 times.

Hayden told CNN that he did not criticize President Obama: “I actually said these are very difficult issues. I said I had political guidance, too, that limited the things that I did when I was director of NSA. Now that political guidance is going to be more robust. It wasn't a criticism.”

His phone conversation was permissible from his coach seat but would not have been from the commuter train's car that strictly prohibits calls.

Hayden at one point referred to “a famous blackberry,” Matzzie said — likely Obama's 2008 BlackBerry that was modified to prevent eavesdropping.

Matzzie listened for nearly 20 minutes: “On Acela listening to former NSA spy boss Michael Hayden give ‘off record' interviews. I feel like I'm in the NSA. Except I'm in public.”

Matzzie even recognized the mild Twitter flare-up he caused: “I am totally busted I think.” He pondered whether he should ask Hayden for a photograph together.

They did pose for a photo when someone alerted Hayden, and he walked over to introduce himself after finishing a call. When one Twitter follower asked Matzzie if he thought “the Hayden photo-op was an attempt by his office to mitigate the inevitable story about bashing Administration,” Matzzie replied: “Charm is a great way to disarm a PR crisis. I feel sorry for the guy.”

Bonin gives Hayden credit for talking to Matzzie and doesn't think what happened will stop him from giving interviews — “just not ones in public places,” he said.

Matzzie, who runs a clean energy website, on Friday began tweeting about his passion: “So now that a bunch of people are following my tweets I want to talk about something really important: climate change.”

Salena Zito is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at szito@tribweb.com.

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