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Former CIA head Hayden: Espionage essential to protect Americans

Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
FILE PHOTO. Duquesne alumnus Gen. Michael V. Hayden talks about global security in the 21st Century, Friday, Nov. 9, 2012 on Duquesne Campus. He appeared at the Duquesne Club on Monday, Nov. 18, 2013.

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Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Spying is as patriotic as baseball and apple pie, retired CIA Director Michael Hayden told two groups in Pittsburgh on Monday.

But technology and foreign threats have shifted so dramatically that spy masters need new parameters for their craft, he said. Americans who no longer trust the government to set those boundaries must get involved in redefining them.

“Espionage is not only compatible with democracy,” Gen. Hayden said at a morning event with students at Peters Township High School. “Espionage ... is necessary for a democracy to remain free and safe.”

Hayden, a native Pittsburgher and a Steelers fan who timed his visit around the team's home game on Sunday, spoke with students from several schools who attended in person and others from across the country who interacted online. Later, he spoke at a World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh luncheon in the Duquesne Club, Downtown.

Concerns about the spying techniques revealed by defector Edward Snowden stem from intelligence agencies using old ways to fight emerging threats, Hayden said.

Systems built to target foreign states are not hard-wired to infiltrate rogue groups. Terrorists who communicate through Google and Yahoo send messages that commingle with emails of innocent Americans, making them hard to isolate.

“This whole kerfuffle that Snowden has put into motion is fundamentally about, ‘Do you want your security services to keep up with these technological changes?' ” Hayden said at the luncheon.

The intelligence agencies can adapt, he said, but Americans must decide how much privacy they are willing to give up to increase their security. He encouraged people to get involved in the discussion.

It's not an easy question to answer, said Vicki Mannion, a Peters social studies teacher. The generation growing up since 9/11 seems willing to trade privacy for greater security, she said. Her students answered an informal poll saying they would give up some personal information for greater safety, and one-third said they would sacrifice all.

“You've got to be careful,” said Walter Michalski, 18, a Peters senior. “I assume nothing is private at this point.”

Dane Sehnert, 17, a Peters senior, said government surveillance is in the back of his mind when he uses his smartphone, laptop and tablet.

“It just makes you wonder what else you don't know,” he said.

Because of Snowden, there's little the public does not know — or won't soon find out, Hayden said. He called the leaks catastrophic because they reveal how the government collects secrets. And based on conversations with insiders about what was stolen, Hayden said he expects the leaks will keep coming.

The sin, he said, is not in spying on foreign heads of state, such as Germany's Angela Merkel, but in getting caught. Foreign governments will avoid working with Americans not because of anger over spying, but because of the government's failure to keep secrets.

“All nations spy,” Hayden told the students. “It is accepted international practice. It is what nations do. If a nation doesn't spy, I would lose all respect for their government. It's what they should do to protect their citizens.”

Andrew Conte is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7835 or

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