DURHAM — The tension between government and the press is nothing new, but more than 150 people turned out to watch prominent members of each square off Monday night at Duke University.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Barton Gellman and ex-CIA Director Michael Hayden debated domestic spying and intelligence-gathering in front of an overflow crowd.
Hayden, a retired four-star general in the U.S. Air Force, served as director of both the National Security Agency from 1999-06 and the CIA from 2006-09. Gellman helped expose the NSAs PRISM program a domestic government data-mining program after it was leaked to him by NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The NSA has been at the center of increasing controversy since Snowdens revelation of how the U.S. government monitors citizens, raising questions about the balance between personal liberties and national security. Who should know what, and when?
The problem is that the president, and everyone who works for the president, Gellman said, is not qualified, and I would say is actually disqualified from a standing of self-government, from deciding what we need to know to hold them accountable.
Hayden, who has called Snowden a traitor for leaking the information, disagreed.
You asked what gives the president the authority to classify information. The simple answer to that is the Electoral College, Hayden said. It comes from the constitution.
Frankly, there are necessary secrets, he said. There are things I wish I could whisper into the ear of 315 million of my countrymen, but I havent figured out how to do that without informing those who want to do us harm.
And one of those wishing to do the U.S. harm, Hayden said, was Snowden.
I dont think Snowden was an innocent who went into government service and was suddenly offended by something he discovered, Hayden said. To use the metaphor, he was not a gatherer, he was a hunter. And he hunted NSA systems for the better part of a year trying to find things that he felt would be useful to be made public for a preconceived notion, not being offended by the discovery of something that was presented to him. I would have loved for him to be an actual whistle-blower.
But Gellman said a whistle-blowers personal motivations shouldnt come into play when deciding what information to be released to the public.
My goal as a reporter is to maximize the information available to the people for the purposes of self-governing, Gellman said.
I dont care, and I dont think we should either, what someones motivation is for disclosing information that turns out to be truthful and raises questions that lots of people, including in Congress and elsewhere in the debate, consider to be important, he said.
I have never in 27 years of reporting come across a case in which someone made public information that his or her employer did not want public and thought was very important to keep secret, and was not basically crushed like a bug, Gellman said.
Allison Sturges, a sophomore at Duke from California, said it was interesting to hear what Hayden had to say about domestic spying programs from the perspective of the intelligence community.
I felt like he was able to give a very good argument for their policies and actions, she said.