Michael Hayden has issued an apology to Germans in an interview with news magazine Der Spiegel. Yet he said he had no regrets about the NSA's surveillance practices, only that the group failed to keep its actions secret.
The former NSA director Michael Hayden told this week's Der Spiegel that attending the recent Munich Security Conference made him realize how much value German people place on their privacy.
"I admit that we Americans did not just underestimate the effects on the chancellor, but rather on the whole German population," Hayden said. "Perhaps the Germans have some different sensibilities because of their history. During the Munich Security Conference I sensed that the Germans regard their privacy in a similar way that we Americans see perhaps the freedom of speech or religion."
In an interview with DW during the Munich Security Conference earlier this year, Hayden had also mentioned how he was struck by "the depth of feeling" on the issue.
Germans retain comparatively fresh memories of oppressive secret police services, first under Adolf Hitler and then in former Communist East Germany. Parliamentarians in the Bundestag this week unanimously approved launching a special parliamentary inquiry into the extent of NSA espionage.
Schröder tapped over Iraq, Russia
Hayden was at the head of the NSA in 2002, when it began monitoring the telephone of German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, later continuing to observe his successor Angela Merkel. He told Spiegel that Schröder's opposition to the Iraq war and his comparatively close political and business ties to Russia and Gazprom first piqued the interest of US secret services.
He said he was not prepared to apologize for conducting such espionage against another country, but was willing to apologize for "making a good friend look bad."
Irrespective of what the NSA had done in secret, Hayden said, "we could not keep it secret and therefore put a friend in a very difficult position. Shame on us, that's our mistake."
No-spy deal off the table
Hayden said he did not expect German politicians would be able to successfully negotiate for what's been dubbed a "no-spy deal" in the domestic press.
"We have not made a deal of that nature with anybody, not even with the British," Hayden said. "The White House has made this very clear: such an agreement will not be reached."
US President Barack Obama, in a rare appearance on German public television in January, said that Angela Merkel would no longer need to worry about the NSA tapping her phone during his last two years in office. Hayden said this pledge would not necessarily hold for future chancellors.
Latest Snowden files focus on China
The New York Times and Spiegel also jointly reported over the weekend that the NSA had targeted Chinese political leaders, like former President Hu Jintao, and the telecommunications and networking giant Huawei. The publications were citing further documents sourced from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The latest allegations preceded a meeting between Obama and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on the sidelines of an international summit in The Hague on Monday. Dozens of world leaders are expected at the Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands; officially, nuclear terrorism tops the agenda, although the situation in Ukraine and Crimea is likely to dominate discussions.
msh/kms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)