The much-touted debate on NSA spying sponsored by Canada’s Aurea Foundation between Michael Hayden and Alan Dershowitz on one side and Glenn Greenwald and Alexis Ohanian had few surprises — except for the surprise appearance of Edward Snowden in a video made for the occasion. In it, Snowden explains the power and scope of the National Security Agency: Hayden and Dershowitz spent the rest of the hour and a half or so denying that the pervasive surveillance described by Snowden and Greenwald even exists.
It was a case of worlds in collision – the truth presented by Greenwald/Ohanian and the outright lies of Hayden and Dershowitz. The latter never laid a glove on Greenwald, in spite of their tortured attempts to do so, while Glenn got Hayden good when he attributed Hayden’s contention that we might have stopped the 9/11 attacks if the NSA had its programs in place at the time: Hayden, Glenn averred, was merely covering up his own ineptitude on 9/11, when he was in charge at Ft. Meade. If a cartoonish “Ka-POW!” appeared over Hayden’s head at that point I wouldn’t have been surprised. Another Haydenism: “’Collect is all’ doesn’t mean collect it all!” That provoked a few startled laughs.
The debate cannot even be called a debate because the two sides simply were not talking about the same subject. Hayden-Dershowitz refused to discuss the actually existing NSA spying programs. Dershowitz, instead, insisted on taking what he called a “middle position,” which would involve “some rights violations” in the name of the “greater good.” Hayden, for his part, completely denied that the NSA’s surveillance system was violating anyone’s rights.
“Trust me,” said Hayden – and the audience laughed.