Speaking on CBS'<!p><#148>Face the Nation," former NSA and CIA Director Mike Hayden downplayed the European outrage over the programs, saying they "should look first and find out what their own governments are doing." But Hayden said the Obama administration should try to head off public criticism by being more open about the top-secret programs so that "people know exactly what it is we are doing in this balance between privacy and security."
"The more they know, the more comfortable they will feel," Hayden said. "Frankly, I think we ought to be doing a bit more to explain what it is we're doing, why, and the very tight safeguards under which we're operating."
Hayden also defended a secretive U.S. court that weighs whether to allow the government to seize the Internet and phone records from private companies. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is made up of federal judges but does not consider objections from defense attorneys in considering the government's request for records.
Last year, the government asked the court to approve 1,789 applications to spy on foreign intelligence targets, according to a Justice Department notice to Congress dated April 30. The court approved all but one -- and that was withdrawn by the government.
Critics have derided the court as a rubber stamp approval for the government, sparking an unusual response last week in The Washington Post by its former chief judge. In a statement to the newspaper, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly refuted a draft NSA inspector general's report that suggested the court collaborated with the executive branch instead of maintaining judicial independence. Kollar-Kotelly was the court's chief judge from 2002 to 2006, when some of the surveillance programs were underway.
Some European counties have much stronger privacy laws than does the U.S. In Germany, where criticism of the NSA's surveillance programs has been particularly vocal, Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger likened the spying outlined in the Der Spiegel report to "methods used by enemies during the Cold War." German federal prosecutors are examining whether the reported U.S. electronic surveillance programs broke German laws.
Green Party leaders in the European Parliament called for an immediate investigation into the claims and called for existing U.S.-EU agreements on the exchange of bank transfer and passenger record information to be canceled. Both programs have been labeled as unwarranted infringements of citizens' privacy by left-wing and libertarian lawmakers in Europe.
The dispute also has jeopardized diplomatic relations between the U.S. and some of it its most unreliable allies, including China, Russia and Ecuador.
Snowden, who tuned 30 last week, revealed himself as the document leaker in June interviews in Hong Kong, but fled to Russia before China's government could turn him over to U.S. officials. Snowden is now believed to be holed up in a transit zone in Moscow's international airport, where Russian officials say they have no authority to catch him since he technically has not crossed immigration borders.
It's also believed Snowden is seeking political asylum from Ecuador. But Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa signaled in an AP interview Sunday that it's unlikely Snowden will end up there. Correa portrayed Russia as entirely the masters of Snowden's fate, and the Kremlin said it will take public opinion and the views of human rights activists into account when considering his case. That could lay the groundwork for Snowden to seek asylum in Russia.
Outgoing National Security Adviser Tom Donilon said U.S. and Russian law enforcement officials are discussing how to deal with Snowden, who is wanted on espionage charges. "The sooner that this can be resolved, the better," Donilon said in an interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has a different take on what to do with Snowden. "I think it's pretty good that he's stuck in the Moscow airport," Pelosi, D-Calif., said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "That's ok with me. He can stay there, that's fine."