A discussion of the implications of the recent NSA revelations on the transatlantic relationship with Michael V. Hayden, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency and Wolfgang Ischinger, Chairman, Munich Security Conference and former German Ambassador to the United States moderated by Frederick Kempe, President and CEO, Atlantic Council.


Read the summary and listen to the recording of this call

OPERATOR: We now have Atlantic Council President and CEO Fred Kempe join with Atlantic Council board director and former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, General Michael V. Hayden; and chairman of the Munich Security Council and former German ambassador to the United States, Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger. I would now like to turn the conference over to Mr. Kempe, who will be offering some introductory remarks and facilitate the discussion. Sir, you may begin.

FRED KEMPE: Thank you very much, operator. Welcome and thanks to all of you for coming. I am Fred Kempe, president and CEO of the Atlantic Council.

This is part of our larger members’ programming. We have augmented this call beyond our members to attendees and people interacting with Ambassador Ischinger at the Munich Security Conference. We had a very good gathering of the core group of that esteemed body in Washington this week where Ambassador Ischinger was kind enough to involve the Atlantic Council and Brookings as co-hosts.

These calls provide our members from around the world an exclusive opportunity to talk directly with experts and policymakers. A lot of our members aren’t in Washington, have a little bit more difficulty attending our meetings, even if they are in Washington, and so we try to do this, particularly around issues of current concern. It’s hosted with the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security here at the Atlantic Council. Today’s call is on the record, so tweet to your heart’s delight.

As the operator mentioned, I’m joined by General Michael Hayden and Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger. Both are board members of the Atlantic Council and then therefore also members. That’s part of what I love about my job is interacting with the prominent members and board members of the Atlantic Council, many of whom have held incredibly important positions and still do.

I won’t go through the longer introductions, but I will say that General Hayden is principal now at the Chertoff Group and distinguished visiting professor at George Mason University. Importantly for purposes of our call today, from 1999-2005 he was director of the National Security Agency, so he knows from which he speaks, and previously served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2006 to 2009.

He wrote a piece in The Wall Street Journal recently where he warns the administration not to over-achieve in fixing this. I’m sure he’ll talk about that a little bit. But my favorite lines in it were when he reminded us what this had to do with Gary Cooper. And he writes about, quote, in the iconic last scene of “Western High Noon,” Marshal Will Kane – that’s Gary Cooper – is surrounded by townsfolk crowding one another to congratulate him for killing Frank Miller and his murderous henchmen. These are the same townsfolk who a few hours earlier had not only refused to help Kane but actually accused him of causing Miller’s vengeful descent on them. So high noon there, what the editors of The Wall Street Journal took out, General Hayden told me just before we got on this call, is that he also added that in this case, Frank Miller isn’t yet dead, which of course gives us a bit more urgency.

Ambassador Ischinger is chairman of the Munich Security Conference. Old friend. We’ve known each other for years. 2006 to 2008 he was the Federal Republic of Germany’s ambassador to London, before that, ambassador to the United States from 2001 to 2006. What’s important about that is not only does he have these – has he filled these important positions, but that was the time when Germany and the U.S. had one of the highest moments of the diplomatic tensions regarding the Iraq war, so he also has some perspective on how this stacks up against that. He represented the European Union in the troika negotiations on the future of Kosovo. I’ll also embarrass him by saying he’s one of the best gears in the diplomatic service anywhere, and he navigates global issues with the same aplomb that he navigates double black diamond slopes. And I would say that this NSA business is turning into something of a double black diamond for the U.S. and its allies.

With that, let me turn to General Hayden to just make a couple of opening remarks. I think the opening remarks will have five to seven minutes on both sides. And then we’ll get straight into – straight into questions. So General Hayden, let me turn to you.

GENERAL MICHAEL HAYDEN: OK, Fred. Thank you very much.

I think the first thing I would point out, pointing out the obvious, is that this is a situation that neither government, neither country wants. I’ve pointed out in other fora that it’s not just what the United States may have been doing; it’s that it’s appearing in the world’s newspapers. I mean, if the BND had discovered this through their own tradecraft and counterintelligence, the last thing the German government would have done would have been to make it public. There would have been serious discussions, no less earnest than they are now, but they would have been private, and we would have worked out a way forward. So the first thing I would add is that we all need to keep in mind and try to deflect the emotionalism of the moment that’s been created by this all being public.

The second point I’d make is, in a sense, this is a little bit like worlds colliding. I mean, I understand German history and why this is so sensitive to the Germans, but in American history and in the American present, remember, we warned President Obama to throw his BlackBerry away when he was waiting to take the oath of office. Now, he kept it, but we added some additional security to it. But the presumption, the backstory, to that little interlude is that we expected his BlackBerry to be intercepted in his national capital by a variety of foreign intelligence services. And, oh, we didn’t rend our garments or claim outrage or anything else; we just viewed that to be the way things are. So there’s a bit of, as I said, worlds colliding.

A third point, U.S. cooperation – and I’ll just talk at the intelligence level, and it’s also obvious at the diplomatic and geopolitical level – the U.S. cooperation with Germany at the intelligence level is very important. I think the ambassador recalls that when I was director of NSA, against some opposition inside the U.S. government, I moved and finally succeeded in closing some U.S. collection activities not directed against Germans but operating from Germany as kind of the hangover from the military occupation. And my goal in doing that was to end that kind of relationship with Germany and the German services and begin a cooperative intelligence relationship among equals.

I guess an additional point I’d make is if we’re trying to move forward, we might want to think about dampening expectations. There – private assurances I think can be very powerful. Public arrangements or treaty-like statements I think will be very problematic. I know one idea floating about is Germany joining the five eyes or some sort of espionage nonaggression pact. First of all, with regard to the five eyes, no one should assume that we control membership in any multinational organization. And we can talk about what a nonaggression pact and espionage might look like and why that might be difficult for either nation.

And then, finally, I would simply add, as important as this issue is, in itself, I think when you unwrap it, it’s symptomatic of broader, almost tectonic concerns that we’re going to have to address over time. I noticed that at NSA, really at CIA, in a bit of a parting of the ways between ourselves and our European allies with regard to the use of force and other quote-unquote hard-power things in international relations. And with regard to this particular issue, it’s almost a parting of the ways with the definitions of what constitutes sovereignty and privacy. You know, when you talk to an American, and you say, what about privacy with regard to electronic espionage, we go right to the Fourth Amendment and divide the world between U.S. persons and not U.S. persons. When you talk to a European and especially a German, they talk more in terms of universal rights with regard to privacy. That’s a significant disconnect, and it’s going to make this conversation a bit more difficult than it would otherwise be.

Fred, I’ll stop there. I know there are lots of questions that will be coming. I’m looking forward to the ambassador’s comments.

MR. KEMPE: General Hayden, thank you very much. I know you could go on for the entire hour, and that was a fascinating start. And also, I like the way that you broadened this out, also talking about what this says in terms of how our respective countries and continents look at issues of sovereignty and privacy.

So let me pass to Ambassador Ischinger. He wrote importantly in The New York Times, in international diplomacy 101, one learns that the most important ingredient of international cooperation is trust, easy to lose but hard to gain. How can Ms. Merkel or anyone else on the European political leadership ever trust the White House again? So that’s a sharp question. I welcome your opening comments, Ambassador Ischinger. And you may want to hit on that – the answer to that question at the same time.

WOLFGANG ISCHINGER: Thank you. Thank you, Fred. And thank you, General, for your opening comments, which I really appreciate.

Let me start by referring to something that you said at the end. That’s the first point I want to make. I mean – and I will come back to the excitement and the – and the headlines about wiretapping of phones of chancellors or other leaders. but I think more importantly than this current scandal or crisis is the larger question, a German colleague of mine write in a piece just very recently, the shift from government to Googlement is what we really need to deal with, the shift from government to Googlement, meaning that – the unprecedented ability of companies and, of course, governments to gather, store and evaluate vast amounts of data, big data. That’s the brave new world we are entering into and where we find that there are no adequate rules, not inside the European Union, for how we deal with each other, the companies and governments and certainly not at the trans-Atlantic or more generally at the global level. So I think that’s the larger question.

Second, why is there such a fuss being made? I’ve been asked this question by many. Why are you getting so excited? Well, needless to say, there is the Stasi background. There is the 20th century in Germany that’s different from the United States.
And I think that also refers to a different evaluation and role of the intelligence community. I had dinner just last night with some friends from the U.K., from London, who are personally involved with the British intelligence community. And, of course, there is a deep and well-understood sense of pride in England, just like there is one in the United States, in terms of respecting and appreciating the ability of the intelligence community to defend the national interest and to protect the country, in America, enhanced by the tragedy of 9/11.
Germany has a different background. I don’t think that most Germans think of the BND, you know, as a great organization. Even chancellors such as Helmut Schmidt, age 94, wrote last week that – he claimed – I don’t believe a word of this, but he claimed that he had never, ever read a single BND report. In other words, that is not something that a former American president would want to say about his intelligence briefing. That’s a totally different psychological approach.
Third point, just very quickly, Fred, what’s so different between this crisis and the Iraq crisis exactly 10 years ago? Well, interestingly enough, when I look back, having served at that time as the ambassador in Washington, I think that even at – even while Chancellor Schröder and President Bush found it very difficult to talk to each other because of this substantial policy difference, the BND, the German intelligence organization, was working hard to help the U.S. intelligence community collect the kinds of data that were useful in the Iraq operations. So there was a political dispute, but there was continued close cooperation.
My last point is – and that’s also connected to the lesson from the Iraq War – I think that what made overcoming the Iraq crisis so difficult was that both governments, in particular my own, found it extremely difficult to make – to take the necessary steps to get rid of this problem, to restore trust and to get things back to normal. That is – in other words, process became almost as or even more important than the underlying problem, and that is why I believe that in this current crisis it’s very important that quick steps shall – or should now be taken in order for us to go back to our normal agenda, which is a huge agenda with Iran and Syria and Russia and so many other issues on our transatlantic agenda.
So I’ll stop here for the moment. Thank you.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you, Ambassador Ischinger.
A very quick question for both of you. I did say you’ve advised leaders, so, Ambassador Ischinger, I wonder if you could continue along the lines you had taken , which is – and you said in your article as well, that if the rift over Iraq has taught us anything, dealing with the continued dynamics of a developing crisis: as important as a disagreement itself. How important was the rift in the relationship between Chancellor Schröder and President Bush at that time? And do we have a similar difficulty right now in terms of not the closest relationship between the two leaders? And with that in mind, or what would be the steps – the immediate steps in a concrete way that you might – you might advise? And I want to pose much the same question to General Hayden, so if he could follow up on your response.
AMB. ISCHINGER: Let me quote, if I may, a piece that my friend Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg – remember, former defense minister of Germany – just published in a European paper. If I may quote from that, “It is worth remembering that there is nothing more damaging to friendly relations among democratic states than a combination of losing faith and losing face as a result of an ally’s actions.” Now, that is probably the issue that we’re dealing with here, that at least as seen by many here on this side of the Atlantic, there is an issue of losing faith and an issue of losing face at the personal level. That makes this so difficult to handle.
The Iraq dispute, as I remember it, was a serious policy dispute, no question about it, and it had enormous repercussions. But I also remember, you know, how (gently ?) Schröder said to his advisers, including myself, things like, you know, if we didn’t have this policy difference with George W. Bush, I think I’d get along beautifully with him. In other words, once the policy difference was out of the way, it was not so difficult to go back to the normal agenda.
Now, to your question, what ought to happen, I think what is already happening is extremely important. As one confidence-building measure, the two governments are talking about some kind of agreement, some kind of arrangement. I agree with General Hayden, then. We should not create, you know, expectations here that exceed the possible. But the news that the two governments are talking to each other, that their delegations came to Washington and were received and that American specialists are now coming to Berlin is already helping to diffuse this.
Second point, I believe it is extremely important for Europeans and for Germans to understand that there are members of the U.S. Congress, including those in the oversight committees, if I can call it that, who are interested in taking a fresh look at oversight – congressional or parliamentary oversight procedures. Strengthening oversight is an issue probably not limited to the United States. It is also an issue in Germany. We have good reasons to also review our procedures, that kind of transatlantic discussion. And then third, the transatlantic discussion about data protection in general beyond wire-tapping by intelligence agencies, is important. We need to try to be out front, in my view, as the transatlantic community, as the North Atlantic alliance. We need to be out front in terms of trying to move the global community forward in terms of some degree of international regulation or at least code of conduct with regard to data protection, who is allowed to collect what kind of data and under what supervision, and do we have a common understanding of this? I think this is the future, not just as far as the government and intelligence operations are concerned, but also in terms of what companies are allowed to do at the national level and at the international level.
MR. KEMPE: And over to you – thank you, Ambassador Ischinger.
Over to you, General Hayden. Particularly this question of President Obama being clearly committed to rebalancing, how would you advise him to do that in light of your first comments?
GEN. HAYDEN: Yes, and I was actually on one of our Sunday talk shows with the defense minister that the ambassador referenced, and I was really taken by his comment about face and faith in one another.
Frankly, Fred, it’s our move, all right? This is our fault. We have put a good friend in a very difficult personal – because I think the chancellor’s anger is genuine – and political, very bad political position as well. You know, we can have a sidebar argument as to whether or not the United States did or did not do this, whether or not this was or was not a good idea, but we can all agree that the failure of the American state to keep whatever it was it was doing secret, has put a good friend and ally in an almost impossible political position. And so it is our move and it is our turn to be more rather than less generous in this dialogue. So the assurances the president has given the chancellor, I think, are precisely on the mark.
And I’m intrigued by the – by the ambassador’s suggestion that one way to deal with this is not in, you know, some bilateral compact, which will be very difficult for both nations to respect in the breach, but the broader question of – you know, and looking at his words here, the “Googlement” that we’re all now facing.
Here’s something that I fear, and I don’t want to dodge the problem by making it bigger, Fred, but I think this is a really serious issue. The worldwide web is a wondrous thing. I mean, it’s global, ubiquitous, accessible, egalitarian, democratic, and there – but there are forces out there in some nation states who want to destroy that entity I just described not out of a sense of security but to prevent the very purpose of the web, which is the free flow of information. To the degree our governments in the North Atlantic community disagree on what constitutes legitimate privacy, to the degree we cannot come up with an agreed code of conduct, we empower those who will use these stories and this crisis not to defend themselves on the worldwide web, but to actually destroy this wondrous contribution, I think, to human communication. And so there are really big stakes at issue here beyond the very important one of, you know, German-American relations.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you, General.

AMB. ISCHINGER: I couldn’t agree more. I couldn’t agree more, if I may just barge in here. I think that is absolutely 100 percent on the mark, General, what you just said. I fully and totally agree. So that’s good. Thank you.

MR. KEMPE: Thank you. And continue this as a conversation between the two of you where you wish. Let me turn now to Andrei Sitov – I hope I’m pronouncing that correctly – from TASS Russian News Agency.

Q: Thank you, sir. And thank you for doing the call. I wanted to ask General Hayden about the famous episode from the – (inaudible) – when the vice president, looking at your three ovals, suggested that you cut out the legal oval. Was that at the root of the current problems, do you think? And what do you expect to change in that sense in the current – up to the current revelations? And for Ambassador Ischinger, I suggested – he mentioned Russia among the challenges faced both by the U.S. and Germany together. And I’d like to ask him to elaborate on that. Thank you.

GEN. HAYDEN: OK. Thank you. Thank you, Andrei. (Inaudible) – you want me to go first?

AMB. ISCHINGER: Yes, please.

GEN. HAYDEN: OK. What Andrei is referring to is I have, in the past, said that the operating space for an American intelligence agency is at the overlap of three Venn circles that were labeled lawful, technologically possibly and operationally useful, and that where you got those three things overlapping, that’s where – that was the space for American espionage. I’d have to correct you, Andrei, the vice president never said he erased the lawful oval. If there were any disputes inside our government with regard to lawfulness it was just whether some things would be done under the president’s commander in chief authorities or whether legislation would be required.

And – but to drive home the point I suggested earlier and which is suggested by your question, the American definition of lawfulness is at present bounded on the left and right by the American understanding of sovereignty, the American understanding of accepted international practices and, frankly, when it comes to electronic espionage, a stark division of the world between protected U.S. persons and unprotected everyone else persons. And that might be at the – at the real heart of the dispute, not lawful or unlawful under U.S. law but a shifting definition of human rights in international discourse.

MR. KEMPE: Ambassador Ischinger.

AMB. ISCHINGER: Yes. The question was about the reference I made, I don’t think in this discussion, but in the article or in some other interview to Russia.

Q: It was in this discussion.

AMB. ISCHINGER: The simple point I think I’ve been trying to make over and over again is that even if, let’s say, the German government were absolutely convinced that there was now no longer going to be any problems regarding NSA activities with regard to Germany or on Germany territory, that would not settle the problem of foreign espionage in Germany because we have to assume that there are many, many other actors involved in this game. That was the point I was trying to make.

And Russia, for me, was just simple, if you excuse this, a reference to the fact that most Germans remember the Cold War and remember how the relationship was then shaped. And of course, intelligence activities in and with Germany played a major role in those days. So Germans think, of course, of Russia or of the former Soviet Union, of China and of some other countries when this comes up. And I think it’s important that we, in Germany, understand that – our public understands that this is a far bigger problem, in fact, than just a family dispute between Germany and the United States. That’s the point I was trying to make.

MR. KEMPE: Thanks, Ambassador Ischinger. Over to Randall Ford of Raytheon, but formerly, if I’m not mistaken, Randall, assistant secretary of state for intelligence.

Q: Yes, that’s correct. Thank you, Fred. And just – it struck me listening to the conversation, isn’t it nice we’re having this conversation in English and not in Russian, thanks to, among others, the National Security Agency’s contribution to the West winning a peaceful resolution to that horrible Cold War that we were engaged in for, you know, nearly half a century. Just kind of a – as a, you know, point of recollection.

My question is, going to the reference to Googlement and where things are going, and I read an interesting statistic recently. As of the year 2000, just, you know, 13 years ago, only 25 percent of the world’s data was stored digitally. Today, 98 percent of the world’s data is stored digitally. So we’ve moved so rapidly into this new digital networked, Internetted, World Wide Web era, almost beyond our ability to comprehend. But we’re there and it’s only going to grow.

So going forward, what is the – what is the solution? What is the expectation? Are we to think that the intelligence agencies of the world, including those in the United States, are not going to fully embrace and fully exploit this simple technological fact? Or does anyone really think that like King Canute we’re going to be able to put down markers and tell the tide not to come in? Thank you.

MR. KEMPE: Which of – which of you would like to deal with that one?

GEN. HAYDEN: I’ll start because I’m one of the two of us that actually did some of the things that Randy is suggesting. Randy, good to hear from you again. Look, when we were struggling at the turn of the – of the – of the century at NSA, pre-9/11 – and that, I think, is a really important point.

I think folks in my government have attempted to justify NSA activities far too much on a narrow counterterrorism platform. And that’s just simply inadequate to justify what the United States is doing. And we have lots of motivations that are normal and healthy and consistent with state sovereignty and defending the freedom and security of American citizens. We should not just narrowly confine it to a terrorism argument.

But that said, prior to 9/11, when we were looking at modern telecommunications, as Randy is suggesting, we said we had the problem of what we would call it V cubed – volume, variety and velocity – that the modern telecommunications were just exploding in variety and in size, in how quickly it changed. But also, we knew that our species was putting more of its knowledge out there in ones and zeros than it ever had at any time in its existence.

In other words, we were putting human knowledge out there in a form that was susceptible to signals intelligence. So to be very candid, I mean, our view even before 9/11 was if we could be even half good at mastering this global telecommunications revolution, this would be the golden age of signals intelligence. And candidly, that’s what NSA set out to do.

MR. KEMPE: Thank you. Ambassador Ischinger, would you like to comment on this one?

AMB. ISCHINGER: Yeah, certainly. Just very briefly, I mean, I’m fascinated by General Hayden’s description of this opening up of a whole intelligence activities and data collection. Right, the other side of the coin is the one that Europeans have been debating hotly, long before the current wiretapping issue came up, namely the question: What kinds of rules do we wish to establish within our European community for privacy of the citizen, data protection, et cetera? We have not yet achieved a common standard. We’re working on it. There are disagreements. Hopefully, there will be such a piece of paper coming out.

The next step, in my view, has got to be that this kind of European view then needs to be consulted with and hopefully at some point agreed with in some shape or form with such important partners as the United States because I would imagine, just like EU plus U.S. constitute more than half of global trade, data exchange and transportation is so intense that it would really be absurd if we in Europe began to believe that if we had our own little data protection regulation that that would solve our problem. It wouldn’t. In other words, we need to try to have at least some kind of a Western – common standard of the Western world. Hopefully, that could then serve as a – as a – as an example or as a model for something that would go further.

I want to be sure I’m not misunderstood. I share the view that the free and open World Wide Web is actually a wonderful achievement. And we wouldn’t want to limit that. But there is also the interest of the citizen in making sure that he has some degree of comfort in knowing who has access to his data, wherever he wishes to store them, what can happen to them and how can he protect it. I think this is a legitimate concern which we need to take care of.

MR. KEMPE: Thank you. I’m not going to be a commentator here, but just in terms of future jobs and growth, a lot of it is going to come out of companies and their use of data and this economic treasure trove, potentially. Let me turn to Elmar Theveßen of ZDF German Television.

Q: Thank you very much. It’s an honor to be part of this. If I may ask two questions to General Hayden. One is, on May 31st, 2006, in Frankfurt, Germany, Paul Wolfowitz was visiting. And on that day, before he arrived actually, there was a car parked in front of the stock exchange where the meeting took place. And American agents used their capabilities to, within minutes, find out that the owner of the car was actually shopping on the Frankfurt Zeil, in this street there, what he actually had bought and how much money he had paid, by being able to access his credit card information.

So my question would be – and I think this is the biggest concern of people around the world, not necessarily whether Mrs. Merkel’s phone has been wiretapped – is how easy it seems to be for that data that has been collected to be used or misused for whatever purpose somebody finds necessary. And of course, the concern is there also because there are so many private contractors involved in that work that should be government work as opposed to be a work of commercial entities.
So my question would be – my number-one question would be, General Hayden, do we need or don’t we need kind of code of conduct and also an agreement on who and how does the oversight over those activities to make sure that the data that has been collected cannot be used and misused so easily?
And the second question would be – last week there was an interesting argument in the Foreign Affairs magazine, and I brought this up at the conference in Washington this week, that some people argue that by taking away security layers from software and hardware that is being used around the world – U.S. software and hardware – that, in the end, is hurting national and global security because it is destroying the trust by compromising those standards, the trust that actually is the fundament, the foundation of also economic cooperation and other things.
They also said – the people who made this argument – that it is weakening security by creating entryways for others, for example, the Chinese or others; and in the end also it’s creating those whistle-blowers, which, as you pointed out at the beginning of this meeting, might be very hurtful to international cooperation.
So I was wondering, do we need to at least set some limits to what is being done because we don’t want to have those standards being compromised, because that in the end would also be the Balkanization of the Internet and setting up systems with flaws that can be exploited by third parties?
MR. KEMPE: General Hayden.
GEN. HAYDEN: Well, first – yes, thanks, Fred. Mr. Thevessen, thank you for the last point about the Balkanization of the Internet, what both the ambassador and I have suggested might be the worst possible outcome of the current dispute.
To look at your two questions, I’m absolutely unaware of what may or may not have happened when Secretary Wolfowitz was visiting Berlin. But I’ll just take your story at face value and perhaps pivot off a point the ambassador made earlier, is that that type of information that you just described is out there sloshing about the deck, so to speak, for a whole bunch of entities to capture and use for their purposes, not the least of which private business, who has a very good idea of personal information.
I was on one panel discussion here in Washington, oh, about two months back now on this very issue. I came out of the meeting, went down and got into the car, checked my email as I got into the back seat, and just got an email from Groupon, the kind of the digital coupon entity here. It was 6:00 in the evening. It suggested I must be hungry and gave me a discount coupon for a restaurant I could see out of the windscreen of the vehicle I was sitting in. And so that’s the kind of world in which we are all – we are all now existing. This information is really being aggregated by a variety of entities.
Look, Eric Schmidt is a very good friend of mine and has written wonderfully about some of the challenges of the new digital age and the fear of digital visas and passports and digital residency requirements destroying the World Wide Web. And Eric was quite angry – moving on to your second question, about security letters and so on – quite angry with the most recent allegations with regard to what NSA is doing. But I mean when you step back a little bit, what Eric was saying was NSA appears to be accessing the information I use, I access for my business model, and I’m offended by the fact that NSA is accessing that information. So this – as the ambassador suggests, this is a very larger – much larger question.
With regard to security letters, look, signals intelligence and the anti-signals intelligence, both protecting and attacking information, pivots around one word, and it’s why we’ve got the American offensive and defensive squad in the same organization. NSA both encrypts and decrypts, both intercepts and protects, electronic communications. And the one word around which both of those activities revolve is “vulnerability.” Vulnerability is what it’s all about. And so it is certainly true that an organization like NSA has a legal and ethical, in additional to an operational, decision to make when it discovers a vulnerability exists, one that they may want to exploit, but one also that may make others’ communications susceptible to intercept.
This was easy when nation states, and particularly adversarial nation states, were on their own network and using their own equipment. It’s very hard when everyone is on the same World Wide Web and using the same gear. I know NSA takes this seriously. They make this judgment trying to balance the demands of American security with the requirements of protection of communications more globally. Difficult choice imposed on us by the new circumstances of telecommunication revolution.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you, General.
Pat Reber of the German Press Agency.
Q: Yes. Hi. Thank you for doing this. This is very interesting for us.
I just wanted to ask one question about the two figures who have opened much of this discussion, Bradley Manning/Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden. Both of them basically took advantage of breaches in American security and the ability to protect information. And I’m wondering if you could comment on that, General Hayden.
GEN. HAYDEN: Sure. Very briefly, whatever good may have devolved out of the revelations of these two individuals, no question in my mind – and it may betray my background as opposed to others on the phone call – no question in my mind what both young men have done has been very, very destructive in terms of the things that we want to do.
Now, that said, look, when you conduct espionage, there is – and look, I’m being very candid – you know, that all states conduct espionage, including mine – you always judge risk and benefit. There are lots of risks involved, and there are benefits involved as well. One of the risks is the risk of disclosure.
We have always judged that the risk of disclosure was most prominent – was most pronounced coming at us from the target, from the individual against whom we were conducting the espionage. And you made that kind of judgment.
That equation is no longer the most pertinent one. That’s not the compelling one. The Manning and Snowden leaks now suggest that the risk of disclosure can come from inside, and can come from inside on a massive industrial scale. And if anything, that, more than any political agreements or political dialogue, that may impose more constraints on how countries, including my own, conduct espionage in the future.
AMB. ISCHINGER: Can I just add a question to General Hayden on exactly this issue? Can I –
MR. KEMPE: Please do.
AMB. ISCHINGER: General, I mean, we’ve been watching this from the European side, both the WikiLeaks thing and, of course, the Snowden revelations. We’ve been amazed by the fact – maybe this is just a lack of understanding and knowledge, but we – many of us have been amazed at the fact that these two people, both of whom were certainly not senior people in the U.S. intelligence community or in the U.S. government, seem to have had no substantial difficulty in getting information and taking it away; in other words, committing the crime, if it is a crime – it probably is – of stealing this kind of information from the U.S. government.
Are you – what’s your view? Do you believe that measures should be taken – maybe they have been taken in the meantime – to make sure that that kind of thing, stealing hundreds of thousands of documents by a rather low-grade soldier, that that shouldn’t actually be possible, don’t you think?
GEN. HAYDEN: No – (laughs) – I could not agree more, Mr. Ambassador. But you know, you were here before 9/11 and through 2006, and you saw the overall national dialogue with regard to American intelligence. And one of the memes of that whole period was, you guys didn’t share enough, you guys were too much in stovepipes, you didn’t connect the dots. And so I – you know, I was there for an awful lot of congressional hearings in which, you know, we were told it’s the responsibility, it’s need to share, not need to know.
And so, like many bureaucracies, we probably over-achieved in asking too much information accessible to too many people. That was certainly the case in the Manning episode, a little less so in Snowden. I mean, Manning wasn’t all that skilled. He just had to put his CD in the stack and download stuff, whereas Snowden – you know, Manning was a gatherer; Snowden was a hunter. And Snowden aggressively used his position as assistant to the administrator and as a SharePoint manager – a SharePoint manager – that’s – was his task – to gather all of this – all of this information.
One of the – Mr. Ambassador, you may sympathize with what I’m going to say now. One of the great fears I have is that in overreacting to our overreaction – (chuckles) – in terms of sharing, we will now share information less, to the detriment of America and allied security, or – and I have actually said publicly I greatly fear that we’ll turn our intelligence establishment into a 21st-century version of the Stasi, in which we have half of our population seemingly looking over the shoulder of the other half. Both of those would be very, very destructive. But you’re certainly correct. What’s happened to date is unacceptable and very, very destructive.

MR. KEMPE: Thank you. Thank you for the – that useful exchange, gentlemen.

We’re down to our last 10 minutes, so I ask the questioners to keep their questions sharp and to the point. Let me pass to Garrett Mitchell of The Mitchell Report.

Q: OK. I had another question. It’s a little longer. But this recent observation by General Hayden leads me to come back at Ambassador Ischinger’s question. I understand – and in fact, I think really very much to the question that Ambassador Ischinger raised, which is how is it that low-level functionaries, whether they’re hunters or gatherers, could have such access. And General Hayden’s response moved him to the paranoia that swept across this country post-9/11 and about the ability to share. What I’m – what I don’t understand is why it isn’t possible – and – to – I’ll use simple (liners ?) – why it isn’t possible to fix the problem so that the Bradley Mannings, now Chelsea Mannings, and the other fellow, whose name is escaping me at the moment, don’t have access in the way that they did in 2014 and beyond? I don’t quite understand why it isn’t possible to dramatically reduce the accessibility of information of that level of importance to – why it isn’t possible to restrict it to a smaller and more checked-out group of people, as opposed to these other two fellows. I don’t quite understand that.

MR. KEMPE: And let me – before you answer that, let me also call on one – what I think will probably be close to the final question. And Jason Healey has done terrific work at the Atlantic Council building up our Cyber Statecraft Initiative, has worked inside the White House on these issues. I know he might want to pose a question here as well for your final round of answers. Jay?

Q: Great. Thank you. The big concern I’ve had is that everybody has been treating this as the golden age of SIGINT, you know, not just the United States, but lots of other countries and groups as well. And a lot of the outrage we’re seeing isn’t just from nations. And of course, from nations, this can seem hypocritical, since they spy also, but a lot of outrage from the younger digital generation. And for them, this isn’t traditional spy versus spy, but a much more personal outrage of you stole my personal information. So I’m kind of curious, for the ambassador, you know, do you see how this might play out? You know, does this mean more support for Greens, for Pirate Parties, for groups like Five Star Movements as their disaffection kicks in?

And then for you and General Hayden both, how can we win this younger generation back? Because we might put ourselves in a place that, you know, the Internet is man-made, and we could see a very different future if we’re not careful.

MR. KEMPE: Great. So why don’t I go to you first, Ambassador Ischinger, and then to General Hayden.

AMB. ISCHINGER: All right. I think I can be quite brief. The question directed at me, what will be the political fallout – more support for left-leaning or Green parties, et cetera, et cetera – I don’t really think so. I believe that the younger generation in Europe generally is interested in the unrestricted, you know, World Wide Web. In other words, what – I think they would fully support what General Hayden said 10 minutes or 15 minutes ago. And I believe they are opposed to any effort, including efforts undertaken by the German government recently, to introduce some limitations on the Web for pornographic or other criminal activities. So the unrestricted Web is, for them, sacred. And I don’t think that this recent scandal will have the result of a larger – you know, more voters on the left side of the political spectrum.

What I am afraid, however, is happening and will continue to happen unless we do what I tried to express earlier, namely, rather quick and effective damage limitation work – what I’m afraid will happen is that there will be a lingering sense of anti-Americanism that will be hard to manage. It will be even harder for European governments in the future to get the necessary votes in their parliaments if and when the next – let’s hope that it’s not going to happen soon, but whenever the next, you know, expedition is necessary to intervene militarily somewhere in the world, we’ve had hard times doing that in the past. It will probably be even harder in the future.

That is why it is, in my view, so important that we overcome this with confidence-building measures at the political level and in terms of creating a code of conduct, et cetera, et cetera. I think that’s the real challenge. We need a continued effective and – trans-Atlantic relationship built on mutual trust, and that is currently a bit at risk. That’s what I’m worrying about.

MR. KEMPE: And would you say more or less at risk – in other words, more or less damaging – what would you say to Chancellor Merkel, compared to the Iraq situation that you went through as ambassador?

AMB. ISCHINGER: Well, I think this one is, at the personal level, at the political level, a bit more difficult to overcome. The Iraq War – the Iraq conflict, between the two governments, was over when the disagreement was over. This one needs repairing trust, and that’s slightly more challenging. So this is not easy. It’s possible. I think we know how to do it, and I think it will happen, but it – but the quicker it – remedies will be undertaken, the quicker it is becoming apparent that America is taking this seriously and is interested in working with the allies to overcome this, the better. I hope that by Christmastime, no one will want to continue the discussion over the phone wiretapping scandal.

MR. KEMPE: Thank you, Ambassador.

General Hayden?

GEN. HAYDEN: Yes, first of all, Mr. Mitchell’s comment, that world he described in which we had limited access to information and things were compartmented is the world we actually came from pre-9/11. We have actually lived in that space, and we found ourselves to be operationally inagile, and therefore we changed it.

I don’t think the answer is to go back to that world. I think the answer is to actually use modern technology for our advantage rather than as our enemy here. When my MasterCard calls – company calls me up and asks me if – whether or not I’m in Senegal and I say no and they say, well, your credit card is, they do that almost instantaneously, and they do that by network monitoring and picking up anomalous behavior. That technology is available. I wouldn’t impose recompartmenting information on the American intelligence community again. But that network monitoring function so that you can actually pull out and identify the egregiously unusual activities, I think would be a real plus.

And then with regard to Jason’s question about the younger generation and different definitions of privacy and government secrecy and so on, Jason, I think the problem is even bigger than you suggested. When I was director of CIA, I had a civilian advisory board, and I had three subcommittees. Each had a hard problem. The subcommittee – and she’s allowed me to use her name – the subcommittee under Carly Fiorina of Hewlett-Packard, and therefore familiar with this space – had the – her subcommittee had the toughest question of all, and it was this: Would the United States of America be able to conduct espionage in a future inside a broader political culture that every day demands more transparency and more public accountability from every aspect of national life? And they studied that problem for about a half a year and came back and gave me a very definitive “We’re not sure.”

MR. KEMPE: Thank you, General Hayden. There – and that’s a sobering way to end this call. We try to end sharply on the hour. We know people have full days ahead of them, including our speakers.

Let me just close by thanking General Hayden, Ambassador Ischinger, and to thank the members who joined us, and some from outside our circle who’ve joined us today. We at the Atlantic Council, in situations like this, try to provide more light than heat. I think you two gentlemen have done that through your intelligent handling of the questions and also the way you’re looking forward to both the context, the global context, but also the way forward we might be able to deal with this. We at the Atlantic Council don’t believe that a better trans-Atlantic relationship can solve all the world’s problems, but we certainly believe our common cause is a precondition with – for dealing with most of them: Iran, Syria, getting a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, integrating China in the world economy. And so when these sorts of things come up, we worry that it could throw us off kilter and take our attention from things that we really need to be doing together.

So, gentlemen, thanks to both of you for your time. And for those on the call, if you have suggestions for what you would like to hear on these calls going forward, please feel free to send them in.

Thank you again.

MR. ISCHINGER: Thank you.


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