Former NSA chief weighs in on cybersecurity, cyberespionage at ZertoCon

Retired Gen. Michael Hayden, in biting comments, hits Snowden, the Russians and terrorism

BOSTON -- Retired Gen. Michael Hayden held nothing back when speaking to cybersecurity pros today at the ZertoCon business continuity conference.

It's been more than a decade since he led the National Security Agency (NSA), but that didn't stop Hayden from asserting that the Russians were involved in last year's U.S. presidential election. His view: Only two presidents doubt that the Russians were involved in the 2016 election -- Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

"They [the Russians] had an affect on the election, there is no question that this happened," Hayden said. "The question is if there was collaboration with the campaign."

He offered no apologies when asked about the NSA's surveillance programs, nor did he agree with the release of documents by former NSA employee Edward Snowden. Hayden argued that Snowden could have gone to Congress with his privacy concerns, calling what he did "really destructive."

"We are one of the most active cyberespionage countries in the world. We are really good at stealing stuff," Hayden went on, stressing that what was released by Snowden did not show the NSA was doing any illegal surveillance of American citizens.

During his talk, Hayden covered a variety of topics:

  • He said the first words that come to mind when he thinks about President Trump are that the president is "a little scary."
  • And he noted that terrorist attacks in other nations usually reverbate worldwide. "There is a bump in Manchester (England), and then it goes bang in North America," he said, referring to a bomb attack at a concert in Manchester, England Monday night. "It makes us go to the news to say, 'What happened tonight.'"

Hayden, who in addition to running the NSA is also a former director of the CIA, also said the private sector's involvement will be needed to fend off future cyberattacks. He argued that the leaders of Google, Apple and Facebook can move much faster than the U.S. government in staving off threats.

"We need your genius to make us safe in the cyber domain," he said.

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