Transcript: Gen. Hayden on 'FNS'

The following is a partial transcript from the Feb. 5, 2006, edition of "FOX News Sunday":

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: Well, tomorrow here on Capitol Hill hearings begin on that controversial terror surveillance program. Our first guest, General Michael Hayden, started the program as head of the National Security Agency. Now he's the principal deputy director of national intelligence. General Hayden joins us live from Detroit.

And, General, welcome to "FOX News Sunday". We're delighted to have you, sir.


WALLACE: You told senators this week that there has been a firestorm of misinformation about this program, so let's try today to clear up what's true and what's not.

First, The Washington Post reports today that under this program, the NSA eavesdrops on thousands of Americans in overseas phone calls, but that fewer than 10 a year arouse enough suspicion to follow up. Is that true?

HAYDEN: Chris, I read the article this morning coming down to the studio, and I'm not sure of the data that's contained in there, and I'm certainly not going to get into the fine print of the details of the program.

But you know, there are lots of ways of measuring success. In the article, The Washington Post points out — I think they used number of FISA applications. I'm not quite sure, number one, how they got that data and why they would be the sole metric for success.

After all, this is a foreign intelligence program, and one of the primary purposes of it is to gather foreign intelligence. And so whether or not you get a court order — and again, I'm not attempting to confirm any of the numbers in the article — that would only be one measure as to how the program has been used.

WALLACE: But let me ask you about this, because I think it speaks to the larger issue, General, as to how wide a net you are casting. Just recently, you denied that the NSA puts out an electronic net that intercepts thousands of phone calls looking for key words.

But I want to put up what The Washington Post said in the article today. Take a look if you will, sir. "Computer-controlled systems collect and sift basic information about hundreds of thousands of faxes, e-mails and telephone calls into and out of the United States before selecting the ones for scrutiny by human eyes and ears."

Without getting into the numbers, is there a broad, wide-scale electronic net that you put out that means that you intercept lots of phone calls or communications involving Americans, or is there not?

HAYDEN: Chris, I'm glad you asked, and I've tried to point this out in the past. Let me try to make this very, very clear. About the last third of the Post article is an excursion along the lines that you just described, that we somehow grab the content of communications and then use the content of the communications to determine which of the communications we really want to listen to. That is not true.

When NSA goes after the content of a communication under this authorization from the president, the NSA has already established its reasons for being interested in that specific communication. I've said in other places this isn't a drift net over Lackawanna or Freemont or Dearborn, grabbing all communications and then sifting them out.

This is very specific and very targeted when it comes to the collection of the content of communications entering or leaving the United States.

WALLACE: I just want to ask this a slightly different way. Do you have a specific reason to believe that there is an Al Qaeda connection to every communication involving an American that you intercept?

HAYDEN: Under this program, that's the only justification we can use to target a specific communication, that a reasonable person — in this case, an analyst — with all the facts available to him or her at the time, has cause to believe that one or both of these communicants are Al Qaeda or Al Qaeda affiliates.

WALLACE: Let me ask another question which I'm sure concerns a lot of people. Can you assure Americans that there is no spying on political opponents or political critics of the Bush administration?

HAYDEN: Chris, this is focused on Al Qaeda. The only justification we have to undertake this program is to detect and prevent attacks against the United States. We don't have the time or the lawful authority to do anything except that.

WALLACE: Let me ask you about a different side of this. Officials at the very top of the Bush administration say that when they came up with this program, they suggested amending the law, and it was congressional leaders who said no, they didn't think that was a good idea.

You were in every one of those congressional briefings. Is that true?

HAYDEN: I don't want to get too much into detail. I mean, obviously, these meetings were private. But I think the attorney general has said, and I will second it, that the general body of thought in the meeting, the general agreement, consensus, in the meeting — that it would be very difficult to change the law and not reveal aspects of the program that were protecting America — in other words, revealing our tactics, techniques and procedures to our enemies.

WALLACE: But in fact, and I just want to press the point without breaking any confidences here...


WALLACE: ... is it true, as top administration officials have told me, that they raised the issue of amending the law and it was congressional leaders who said no, because it would end up disclosing the existence of the program?

HAYDEN: Chris, I don't remember the specific dialogue. The question of amending came up. And there was agreement among congressional leaders that that would be very difficult to do without revealing too much about the program.

WALLACE: During those briefings, sir, did any of the congressional leaders you talked to — did any of them raise concerns about the program?

HAYDEN: Oh, these meetings were fairly detailed, Chris. They lasted about an hour or more each. I was the briefer in each occasion. We went through all the aspects of the program.

And believe me, my only purpose in briefing was to make sure that the leaders of Congress were aware of the program. After all, this was our oversight. This constituted our oversight.

There were questions raised and questions answered, issues raised and issues discussed, but I certainly never left the room believing that we had to do anything differently.

WALLACE: No one ever said to you I think that's illegal, I'm against this?

HAYDEN: I can't remember anything specific like that, and I'd be very uncomfortable trying to characterize what were private conversations, Chris.

WALLACE: General, one of the big questions I think that people are asking is why can't you use the FISA law that was passed by Congress back in 1978?

As I understand it, under FISA, you have to show a court that you have probable cause before you can intercept a phone call, but under the president's plan all you need is a reason to believe.

Why shouldn't Americans be concerned that what you have done is taken a program or taken a standard in which you had to go to a court that would be using a judge that would be using a higher standard, and instead now you're using an NSA officer who is able to apply a lower or looser standard?

HAYDEN: All right. Lots of questions contained in there, Chris. First of all, I think you'll hear from NSA lawyers, and you'll probably hear from the attorney general tomorrow, that the standard that we use in order to determine whether or not we want to cover a communication is in that probable cause range.

What's different is, let's say, the layer of administration between discovering that reality and getting the approval, getting the OK, to begin the coverage.

And Attorney General Gonzales has pointed out that the FISA process — and we have certainly used FISA a great deal in this current war against terrorism — that the FISA process doesn't give us the speed and agility to do what this program is designed to do.

And remember, Chris, this is detect and prevent attacks. This is not about long-term surveillance to gather reams of intelligence against a stable and a fixed target.

WALLACE: You and other top officials say that disclosure of this program has harmed national security. Do you mean that just in theory, or in fact? Has publication of The New York Times story, to the best of your reckoning, actually changed the way terrorists do business? Do you feel that they're acting differently since this story broke out?

HAYDEN: Very, very difficult for me to answer that on several dimensions, Chris. One is terrorist communications are a very large and complex universe, and it may take some time to develop trend lines.

The other point is even if we had such information, it wouldn't be profitable for me to discuss it in an open forum. I will say this: Success of what NSA — of what all American intelligence does — is not immune from the disclosure of its techniques and procedures to our enemy.

WALLACE: One other question on that before we move on to other subjects. You've used the phrase hot pursuit, that this helps...

HAYDEN: Right.

WALLACE: ... in the question of hot pursuit of intelligence leads involving terrorism. Can you help us understand what that means?

HAYDEN: Sure. Again, the purpose of the program is to detect and prevent. Speed is very important. You may have heard Director Mueller in open session last Thursday in front of the Senate Intel Committee talk about the slowness of the FISA process and the complexity of the FISA process. I'll refer you to his remarks as to how he has to work through that as head of the FBI.

This gives us agility to get up on communications, in many cases in a matter of hours rather than days, weeks or even months, and that's what the key to this program is — again, detect and prevent.

WALLACE: I'm going to ask you, if I can, sir, to put on your other hat, your new hat as principal deputy director of national intelligence. The IAEA referred Iran to the Security Council yesterday.

Since then, Iran has said it will stop allowing some inspections of its facilities, but, on the other hand, it also says it's continuing to talk to Russia about a possible compromise.

General, what's your best intelligence as to how the mullahs will react to the possibility of sanctions? Do you see them more likely to strike back or more likely to cave in?

HAYDEN: That's a great question, Chris, and it's one that we're watching very carefully and preparing estimates on those very possibilities. I'd be reluctant to make a prediction, although I do think it's fairly well known that our overall intelligence community estimate is that Iran is determined to acquire nuclear weapons.

And working from that fact, I think that fact shapes our policy, and it appears to be shaping the policy of other nations as well.

WALLACE: Well, when you say they're determined, does that mean that economic sanctions by the rest of the world are not likely to deter them?

HAYDEN: No. I think the estimate would say that there may be the potential there to dissuade them, but right now they appear to be very, very determined. And so these kinds of efforts that are going on in IAEA, that may take place in the United Nations, that the European community may support, that our own diplomacy supports — of course they're worthwhile and very valuable, and we'll have to see how they play out.

WALLACE: General, given the worldwide intelligence failure about Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, what makes you think that your intelligence now about Iran is any better than it was about Iraq a few years ago?

HAYDEN: Well, Chris, I mean, you know, you look backwards. You learn from some things that you maybe could have done better. But you've got to button your chin strap and go out and keep playing.

And to the best of our knowledge, with the tools we have available, the best estimates we have, we've made some judgments. We have confidence in those judgments. I should add, too, that we're being very, very clear now in our estimates where we have higher and lower confidence, where these are based on estimates, and where they're more based on hard, concrete evidence — in other words, where the dots are closer together and where the dots may be a little more distant.

We're being very, very candid with that in how we give our estimative products to our customers. There's a higher tolerance for ambiguity and little higher tolerance for he said, she said, so that the people who have to make decisions know precisely what it is we know, what it is we think, and what it is we don't know.

WALLACE: So no more saying to the president, "Slam sunk."

HAYDEN: I won't go there, Chris.

WALLACE: We've just got a couple of minutes left. General, let's talk about Al Qaida. What do you make of the flurry of tapes we've seen recently from Osama bin Laden and his number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri?

HAYDEN: Yes, we've watched them with great interest, tried to analyze them. I think in one sense there's almost a proof of life aspect to them. I don't want to overstate this. This is a tough war, and it's going to go on for a long time. And this is a tough and very cunning enemy, but we have had successes.

HAYDEN: In some ways, the Al Qaida central leadership may be on their back foot, and the rest of their organization may see that, may see reflections of that, and these tapes may be an attempt on their part to kind of re-establish authenticity with their followers.

WALLACE: General, do you believe that both men are still in that tribal area on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan?

HAYDEN: I think our best estimates are that that's most likely, Chris, yes.

WALLACE: And we can't catch them because?

HAYDEN: Well, I mean, obviously, they're trying to avoid capture. They're relying on just the realities in that part of the world of vast distances, small populations, distant from government centers in both countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It's a tough problem.

WALLACE: General, finally, let's get to the really important issue. You're in Detroit, so I know you're taking this on firsthand. From all of your intelligence assets around the world, who's going to win the Super Bowl today?

HAYDEN: Well, Chris, I think you know I'm born and raised in Pittsburgh. I've known the Rooney family since Dan was my football coach in the sixth, seventh and eighth grade. I've taken great strength from the city and from the team, and I'm here to pay some of that back to the Steelers and to Pittsburgh, and so I'm banking on a Steeler win.

WALLACE: That doesn't sound like the most dispassionate intelligence estimate I ever heard, sir, but I guess we'll have to take it from a fan.

HAYDEN: OK. thank you.

WALLACE: General Hayden, we want to thank you so much for joining us. Please come back again, sir. We appreciate it.

HAYDEN: Thanks for the opportunity, Chris.