The former head of the National Security Agency warned that hackers and activists could retaliate through cyber terrorism “if and when” the U.S. government apprehends former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, former head of both the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency, told a Washington, D.C. audience on Tuesday, “If and when our government grabs Edward Snowden, and brings him back here to the United States for trial, what does this group do?”
Hayden served under President Bill Clinton, President George W. Bush, and President Barack Obama.
The Guardian reports that Hayden described the hacker “group” as comprised of “nihilists, anarchists, activists, Lulzsec, Anonymous, twenty-somethings who haven’t talked to the opposite sex in five or six years.”
Hayden has been a prominent defender of the programs as leader of the U.S. intelligence community, which he oversaw in the face of recent criticism of the programs’ constitutionality.
“They may want to come after the U.S. government, but frankly, you know, the dot-mil stuff is about the hardest target in the United States,” Hayden said.
“So if they can’t create great harm to dot-mil, who are they going after?” he asked.
“Who for them are the World Trade Centers? The World Trade Centers, as they were for al-Qaida,” said Hayden.
Hayden’s warnings about retaliation — which he called “speculative” and “imaginative” — are not unfounded.
Anonymous retaliated against the U.S. government’s takedown of the cyberlocker MegaUpload in January 2012 by weaponizing Twitter and launching distributed denial-of-service attacks against the Department of Justice’s website.
The Motion Picture Association of America, Recording Industry Association of America, Universal Music and other related sites were also targeted in the attack .
The Russian government granted Snowden temporary asylum last week — a move that has reportedly further strained tensions between the Kremlin and the Obama administration.
When asked by CNN host Wolf Blitzer about Chinese and Russian intelligence agencies exploiting Snowden and the information he brought with him, Hayden said, “I would lose all respect for them” if they hadn’t collected that information.