Cyberscare: Ex-NSA chief calls transparency groups, hackers next terrorists

Michael Hayden equates potential angry reactions to Snowden indictments to al-Qaida operations

Published August 6, 2013 9:32PM (EDT)

The cyberscare, like the redscare or the greenscare of the '90's, is already under way. We've seen it take root with the fierce federal persecution of Aaron Swartz, the hefty charges and prison sentence facing LulzSec hacktivist Jeremy Hammond and the three-year jail sentence handed down to Andrew "Weev" Auernheimer for pointing out and sharing a vulnerability in AT&T's user information network. On Tuesday, former NSA chief Michael Hayden put it into words.

Hayden warned that hackers, cyberactivists and transparency groups who might act in support of NSA leaker Edward Snowden could target the U.S. government -- equating such groups and individuals to al-Qaida terrorists. Using trite and old-fashioned descriptions of anarchists and hackers as dangerous loners, Hayden said during a Washington speech Tuesday (as the Guardian reported):

"If and when our government grabs Edward Snowden, and brings him back here to the United States for trial, what does this group do?" said retired air force general Michael Hayden, who from 1999 to 2009 ran theNSA and then the CIA, referring to "nihilists, anarchists, activists, Lulzsec, Anonymous, twentysomethings who haven't talked to the opposite sex in five or six years".

"They may want to come after the US government, but frankly, you know, the dot-mil stuff is about the hardest target in the United States," Hayden said, using a shorthand for US military networks. "So if they can't create great harm to dot-mil, who are they going after? Who for them are the World Trade Centers? The World Trade Centers, as they were for al-Qaida."

Hayden provided his speculation during a speech on cybersecurity to a Washington group, the Bipartisan Policy Center, in which he confessed to being deliberately provocative.

It was under Hayden's directorship that NSA programs designed to hoard data and metadata on almost every online and phone communication within and going out of the U.S. were developed. His comments reflect the government's troubling attitude towards online and open-data activists: they are prefiguratively framed as criminals and terrorists, and are treated as such. Although no longer at the NSA's helm, Hayden's attitude suggests with disturbing honesty the potential manner in which the government will treat groups who fight for whistle-blowers like Snowden, who risk their lives to reveal the darker side of U.S.'s nexus of cyberpower.

By Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

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