Hayden's train discussion echoes far beyond his Amtrak car
October 25, 2013 11:53 PM
By Brian Fung / The Washington Post
He should have taken the Quiet Car. But that's not what Michael Hayden did Thursday afternoon, as he boarded Acela No. 2170, the high-speed train bound for New York.
Instead, Gen. Hayden nestled into a regular coach seat and soon began what for many travelers is an Amtrak ritual: talking, often nonstop, on a cell phone as the train rolled on.
A passenger a few seats away couldn't help but be intrigued by the conversation, which included chatter about President Barack Obama's 2008 BlackBerry, specially modified to block foreign eavesdropping.
Could it be National Intelligence Director James Clapper, Tom Matzzie wondered. But why would a sitting official be talking so openly about CIA black sites and rendition?
It took nearly half an hour, but then it clicked for Mr. Matzzie, a former Washington director of the political group MoveOn.org. and now a renewable energy entrepreneur. He whipped out his phone and began tweeting.
"Former NSA spy boss Michael Hayden on Acela behind me blabbing 'on background as a former senior admin official,' " Mr. Matzzie wrote. "Sounds defensive."
For the next 15 minutes, the accidental eavesdropper gave periodic but detailed updates about the conversation of Mr. Hayden, a native of Pittsburgh's North Side and a Duquesne University graduate who headed the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Administration under former President George W. Bush.
At one point, Gen. Hayden dropped the name "Massimo," which led Mr. Matzzie to suspect that Gen. Hayden was talking to Time magazine's national security reporter, Massimo Calabresi. "Michael Hayden on Acela giving reporters disparaging quotes about admin," wrote Mr. Matzzie. " 'Remember, just refer as former senior admin.' "
Reached by phone Thursday evening, Gen. Hayden denied chastising the Obama administration. "I didn't criticize the president," he said. "I actually said these are very difficult issues. I said I had political guidance, too, that limited the things that I did when I was director of NSA. Now, that political guidance [for current officials] is going to be more robust. It wasn't a criticism."
He said he told Mr. Calabresi that Mr. Obama's decision to use a BlackBerry put his communications at risk, and the NSA decided that it needed to make his device more secure.
Mr. Matzzie, Gen. Hayden said, "got it terribly wrong." He dismissed the tweets as a "[B.S.] story from a liberal activist sitting two seats from me on the train, hearing intermittent snatches of conversation." Mr. Calabresi did not return calls and an email seeking comment.
Passing by Philadelphia, Mr. Matzzie worried that his tweets about Gen. Hayden's conversation might get him in trouble.
Someone must have tipped off Gen. Hayden because, when he finished one of his call, he got up -- and walked straight to Mr. Matzzie's seat. "Would you like a real interview?" he asked.
"I'm not a reporter," Mr. Matzzie replied.
"Everybody's a reporter," Gen. Hayden said.
The two proceeded to have a conversation about the Fourth Amendment and NSA surveillance activities. They agreed to disagree, but before they parted, Gen. Hayden posed for a photo with Mr. Matzzie.
Then Gen. Hayden, who is now a principal in the Chertoff Group, a national security consultancy, swept off the train at Newark, N.J.
Mr. Matzzie was overwhelmed by the reaction on Twitter to his dispatches. "I haven't been able to keep up with it," he said. "I think the best tweet I saw was the lesson, 'Don't mess with Tom Matzzie on the Quiet Car.' "