[Our guest blogger, Morton Halperin, was Director of Policy Planning Staff at the State Department and served on the National Security Council under President Clinton. He also served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense under President Johnson.]
The Bush administration has pulled out all the stops in attempting to defend the NSA’s warrantless domestic spying program. After speeches by President Bush and Attorney General Gonzales, Deputy Director of National Intelligence and former NSA Director General Michael Hayden took another crack at the defense in a speech on Monday. He’s not exactly the ideal choice to restore the administration’s credibility.
As Think Progress documented back in December, Hayden misled Congress. In his 10/17/02 testimony, he told a committee investigating the 9/11 attacks that any surveillance of persons in the United States was done consistent with FISA.
At the time of his statements, Hayden was fully aware of the presidential order to conduct warrantless domestic spying issued the previous year. But Hayden didn’t feel as though he needed to share that with Congress. Apparently, Hayden believed that he had been legally authorized to conduct the surveillance, but told Congress that he had no authority to do exactly what he was doing. The Fraud and False Statements statute (18 U.S.C. 1001) make Hayden’s misleading statements to Congress illegal.
Hayden’s fate lies with the tale of another spymaster, Nixon-era CIA Director Richard Helms.
Testifying under oath before a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1973, Richard Helms claimed that CIA was not involved in attempts to overthrow Salvador Allende of Chile:
SEN. SYMINGTON: Did you try in the Central Intelligence agency to overthrow the government of Chile?
MR. HELMS: No, sir.
SEN. SYMINGTON: Did you have any money passed to the opponents of Allende?
MR. HELMS: No, sir.
By the time Helms was called to testify again, CIA activities in Chile had become public knowledge. In 1977, Richard Helms pleaded no contest to charges of lying to Congress and served a suspended sentence.
Four years passed between Richard Helms’ false testimony before Congress and his guilty plea. Hayden’s congressional lying occurred in 2002. It’s now four years later. Time to fess up, General.
– Morton H. Halperin and Michael Fuchs