Michael Hayden, former Director of both the CIA and the National Security Agency (NSA), has said a lot of things about Edward Snowden. He's called the former government contractor a "defector," a "traitor," and a "morally arrogant, troubled young man." He's also joked about getting the "evil" Snowden killed. So it comes as a bit of a surprise to hear Hayden finally on pace with the majority of Americans by finally referring to Snowden as a whistle-blower.
First spotted by one of Snowden's legal advisers, Jesselyn Radack, Hayden said during an Aspen Institute Security Forum (a "gathering of top-level present and former government officials from all relevant national security agencies") last week, "When Snowden blew the whistle on the 215 program, that's the metadata stuff, the phone bills up at Fort Meade, I've got to tell you, people at the fort thought they were cruising smooth." Here's the video:
Techdirt's Mike Masnick suggests that it might have been "something of a Freudian slip" since "he goes on to insist that the program was clearly perfectly legal based on all of the supposed 'oversight'" though he "conveniently leaves out the fact that many of the details of the program were not actually known by those who did the approving" and other facts that disrupt his narrative of a squeaky clean NSA.
Nevertheless, this is a surprising softening of rhetoric from Hayden. He has in the past vigorously refused to use the term whistle-blower to describe Snowden, arguing that "he did … not tell the appropriate authorities."
Maybe Hayden's changed tone has to do with the NSA's apparent diminishing interest in Snowden. "As time goes on" he becomes less relevant, a current NSA official said at the conference. "It's been over a year since he had access to our networks and our information so the need for us to understand that greater level of detail is lesser and lesser."
Snowden's asylum in Russia is set to expire this Thursday, July 31. He has applied for an extension, but is still "awaiting approval from Moscow," according to Al Jazeera.