October 25, 2013

Former CIA chief gets eavesdropping lesson on commuter train

Michael Hayden didn’t know that his phone conversation was being listened to by a tweeting passenger.

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Former National Security Agency chief Michael V. Hayden learned a lesson about eavesdropping aboard an Amtrak train to Newark: Don’t talk on the phone where people can hear you.

Hayden, who also once headed the CIA, began talking on his cellphone Thursday after boarding Acela No. 2170, The Washington Post reported.

A few seats away, passenger Tom Matzzie heard him mention President Barack Obama’s 2008 BlackBerry, which was modified to block foreign eavesdropping.

Once Matzzie was able to place Hayden, he took to Twitter. “Former NSA spy boss Michael Hayden on Acela behind me blabbing ‘on background as a former senior admin official,’?” he tweeted. “Sounds defensive.”

Matzzie, a former Washington director of the political organization MoveOn.org, kept up the tweets for another 15 minutes as Hayden talked. Hayden used the name “Massimo,” leading Matzzie to conclude he was speaking with Time’s national security reporter, Massimo Calabresi.

“Michael Hayden on Acela giving reporters disparaging quotes about admin,” Matzzie tweeted. “?’Remember, just refer as former senior admin.’?”

Someone eventually tipped off Hayden, who finished a call, stood up and walked over to Matzzie.

“Would you like a real interview?” Hayden asked.

“I’m not a reporter,” Matzzie replied.

“Everybody’s a reporter,” Hayden said.

The Post said the two then talked about the Fourth Amendment and NSA surveillance, and then Hayden posed for a photo with Matzzie.

Hayden told the Post later he wasn’t disparaging Obama or his administration. Matzzie “got it terribly wrong,” Hayden said, dismissing the tweets as an inaccurate “story from a liberal activist sitting two seats from me on the train hearing intermittent snatches of conversation.”

“I didn’t criticize the president,” Hayden said. “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 (for current officials) is going to be more robust. It wasn’t a criticism.”

Hayden retired as CIA director in 2009 and is now a principal in the Chertoff Group, a national security consultancy.

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