[JURIST] General Michael Hayden [official profile] defended the legality of the NSA's domestic surveillance program [JURIST news archive] Thursday and said that the program was a critical tool in tracking down terrorists, in testimony during his confirmation hearing [full transcript, PDF] before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence [official website] on his nomination as CIA director. Though Hayden, who headed the NSA from 1999-2005, answered questions on the NSA's warrantless wiretaps of certain domestic communications, he refused to answer questions during the public hearing about reports that the NSA has collected millions of phone records [JURIST report] from US phone companies.
Hayden said Thursday that he initially had reservations about the domestic surveillance program's legality [Chicago Tribune report], but that he became convinced it was lawful after discussions with several Bush administration officials, including then-CIA director George Tenet and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft. Hayden testified that a 2001 Ashcroft memo, which Hayden said he hadn't read, provided the legal basis for the eavesdropping program and that the NSA moved forward with the program in October 2001. In his opening statement [PDF text], Hayden said that as NSA head he worked to fight terrorism in a manner consistent with American values, and said he'd do the same at the helm of the CIA:
In return, I vow that, if confirmed, we will dedicate ourselves to strengthening the American public's confidence and trust in the CIA and re-establishing the Agency's "social contract" with the American people, to whom we are ultimately accountable. The best way to strengthen the trust of the American people is to earn it by obeying the law and showing what is best about America. ...In addition to expressing skepticism about the scope of the NSA wiretapping program, several Senators seemed concerned about Hayden's military ties to the Pentagon, which could conflict with his civilian duties at the CIA. AP has more.
And while the bulk of the Agency's work must, in order to be effective, remain secret, fighting the "long war" on the terrorists who seek to do us harm requires that the American people and their elected representatives know that the CIA is protecting them effectively - and in a way consistent with the core values of our nation. I did that at NSA and, if confirmed, I pledge to do it at CIA.