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Ear to the Ground

Tables Turned on Ex-Spy Boss; Eavesdropped Conversations Get Tweeted

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Posted on Oct 25, 2013
Red Spike's Photos (CC BY-SA 2.0)

So you’re sitting on a train from D.C. to New York City and you overhear a man you recognize as Michael Hayden, the former head of both the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency, talking on his cellphone to journalists about drones, cyberspying and renditions while dissing the Obama administration, all “on background as a former senior administration official.”

What do you do?

Well, if you’re Tom Matzzie,’s former Washington director, you live-Tweet the secret exchanges to the world. That is just what Matzzie did Thursday.

Matzzie was sitting three seats away from Hayden when he began piecing together the threads of Hayden’s loud conversation, and figured out that he was giving interviews to reporters in that time-honored (and, really,  sleazy) tradition of talking without attribution, so there would be no backlash for the information he was trying to weave into journalists’ stories. Matzzie didn’t Tweet much in the way of direct quotes—let’s call them Tweecrets—but was clearly relishing turning the tables on the nation’s former top eavesdropper.

Until after the phone chats with reporters ended and Hayden’s phone rang, this time a call from his office, where someone was monitoring the live Tweets. New York magazine caught up with Matzzie after the train rendezvous for a Q&A:

So after his conversations are over, Hayden gets a phone call from his office informing him that you’ve been tweeting about him. Were you listening as this phone call happened? Were you getting nervous?

Yes. I was nervous. The dude approved waterboarding.

What did Hayden say when he approached you?

“So, would you like a real interview?”

Did he at any point joke about droning you or putting poison in your soup or something?

No. He was a gentleman.

Yeah, very gentlemanly to be trash-talking without putting your name to it. The New York Times—which is not above using that “senior administration official” cover for its sources—caught up with Hayden:

Reached Thursday night on the Acela home to Washington from a speech in Newark, Mr. Hayden said, “I cannot recall a single disparaging comment I made about the administration,” disputing Mr. Matzzie’s post. “I wasn’t saying anything sensitive or classified. These were just routine conversations. I can’t believe you guys are making such a big deal out of this.”

Mr. Hayden, who these days works in cybersecurity and teaches at George Mason University, said before he got off the train in Newark, he went over to Mr. Matzzie and they “had a nice conversation” about the Fourth Amendment, the N.S.A.’s surveillance activities, and their mutual hometown: Pittsburgh.

While they did not reach agreement on the surveillance issue, Mr. Hayden said he agreed to pose for a photo with his new Twitter correspondent before hopping off the train.


—Posted by Scott Martelle.


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