Former NSA, CIA head: Terrorists go for Gmail

Claudine Zap
Former NSA, CIA head: Terrorists go for Gmail

Terrorists: You’ve got Gmail.

Former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden said Google’s free email service is the preferred form of communication for terrorists around the world, the Washington Post reported.

Speaking at a D.C. church as part of an adult education forum on Sunday, Hayden addressed “the tension between security and liberty."

“Gmail is the preferred Internet service provider of terrorists worldwide," he said, presumably meaning Google’s Web-based email service.

He added: "I don't think you're going to see that in a Google commercial, but it's free, it's ubiquitous, so of course it is."

Google representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

According to the Post, the topic came up during a discussion about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which provides the legal basis for the Internet-monitoring program PRISM. NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked classified details of the program to the media in June.

"We have a very difficult time with this," Hayden said. "Is our vision of the World Wide Web the global digital commons — at this point you should see butterflies flying here and soft background meadow-like music — or a global free fire zone?"

Hayden also suggested that the Web’s origins justified the NSA’s actions. “We built it here, and it was quintessentially American," he said, adding that much of the Internet’s traffic passes through U.S. servers where the government "takes a picture of it for intelligence purposes."

The former NSA director’s remarks caused a flurry of comments on the Web, many of which mocked Hayden’s perceived lack of Internet know-how.

Matthew Keys ‏@MatthewKeysLive posted, "Former NSA boss defends online spying, demonstrates he doesn't understand what internet is.”

Edward Tufte ‏@EdwardTufte added,

“Former NSA and CIA director says terrorists love Gmail. Thinks Google is an ISP. And US owns internet, thus can spy.”

Justin Elliott ‏@elliottjustin commented, “Hmm the former head of the NSA seems to not understand what Gmail is.”

Others took issue with the idea that the Web is an American invention. Referring to the 1989 proposal of the Web by British computer scientist Timothy John Berners-Lee, tom robinson @tlrobinson noted,

“‘We built [the Web] here, and it was quintessentially American’"… except it was invented at CERN by a Brit, of course.”

While the idea of putting hypertext links on the Internet originated in Europe, the Web also took root in the United States early on, with the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in Palo Alto, Calif. hosting the first Web server in the U.S. sometime in the early 1990s.

Still, the Atlantic Wire also pointed out that other nations would probably not go for the logic of the “American Web” argument.

It was recently reported that Brazil had been a target of NSA surveillance. The country is “so mad about the NSA's collection of their country's communications that the country's government has commissioned a satellite of its very own to bypass American, or American-friendly infrastructures.”