Gen. Michael Hayden, the former director of the CIA and National Security Agency, was a guest on CBS’s “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” on Tuesday ostensibly to promote his new book.
Instead, Hayden spent most of his time addressing host Colbert’s half-joking questions about the two biggest intelligence-related stories currently in the news.
One breaking story was about a purported trove of CIA hacking tools, exposed by WikiLeaks earlier that day, that indicated the agency was able to spy on people by hacking their iPhones, Microsoft-powered computers, anti-virus software or Internet-connected Samsung televisions. WikiLeaks described one tool, dubbed “Weeping Angel,” that is used to hack Samsung SmartTVs and record the TV owner through a “Fake-Off” mode.
“If WikiLeaks is to be believed, the latest dump from WikiLeaks says that the CIA is looking at me and listening to me through my TV,” Colbert said, as Hayden smiled and nodded. “Uh, is the CIA listening to me through my microwave oven and through my TV and through my cellphone? Are they doing that, sir?”
“No,” Hayden replied.
“If they were, would you say yes?” Colbert pressed.
“Is that a true answer?” Colbert asked again, cracking a smile.
“Yes,” Hayden said, laughing. “Look -”
“I don’t believe you,” Colbert insisted.
Hayden did not deny the existence of the tools, but he noted that “there are some bad people in the world who have Samsung TVs, too.”
“I can tell you that these tools would not be used against an American,” Hayden told Colbert. “But there are people out there that you want us to spy on. You want us to have the ability to actually turn on that listening device inside the TV, to learn that person’s intentions. This is a wonderful capability. You give the intelligence community $53 billion a year. You gotta get something for your money.”
Colbert, who earlier had noted that he owned four Samsung TVs, asked whether he should be concerned.
“Look, we’re all Americans. We’re all distrustful of government,” Hayden said, pointing at himself. “It’s in our DNA, even the former director of this-and-that — ”
He was interrupted by Colbert.
“Let me ask you this: Do you, on your computer, put a piece of tape over the camera?” the comedian asked. Hayden said he did not.
Colbert seemed incredulous: “I can’t wait for the tapes to come out,” he told Hayden, as the audience laughed.
The other unavoidable elephant loitering on the “Late Show” set was President Donald Trump’s sudden and unfounded allegation last Saturday that President Barack Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower before the election.
Trump tweeted: Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!
“Let’s get straight to the heat and the meat here,” Colbert said, before summarizing some of Trump’s accusatory tweets the president had fired off from his Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach estate. “Is that possible?”
“No,” Hayden said. He explained that the authority to order a wiretap was taken away from the president in the 1970s and shifted to the federal court system.
“So the only part of the U.S. government that can grant the authority to do that is a federal judge,” Hayden said. “And if I were to want to do that as director of NSA, I’d have to go to the judge, and I’d have to prove to a level of probable cause that the intended target of the surveillance was either the agent of a foreign power or was involved in some sort of criminal activity.”
Trump’s wiretapping claims have been denied by Obama, former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. and FBI Director James B. Comey.
According to a White House spokeswoman, however, Trump doubts the FBI’s rebuttal and has continued to call for a congressional investigation.
On Tuesday, Colbert also asked Hayden why Trump would demand an investigation into the alleged wiretapping when he had resources at his disposal to find out for himself. Trump had, after all, tweeted on Saturday that he had “just found out” that Obama had his “wires tapped.”
“That’s what I wondered, what happened on Saturday morning,” Hayden said. Trump “seemed to have forgotten that he was the president of the United States.”
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Amy B Wang