The former director of the Central Intelligence Agency hopes a new AMC drama about spies during the American Revolution will change opinions about government spying.
"The American public has an uneasy relationship with espionage agencies. It’s just back and forth," said Michael Hayden – who headed the National Security Agency and later the CIA during the George W. Bush administration – during a Q&A after the Washington premiere of "Turn" at the National Archives Tuesday.
"What this shows is that espionage is as old as the Republic. American espionage is [as patriotic as] baseball and apple pie – it goes back to our roots," Hayden said.
Since Edward Snowden leaked thousands of classified documents showing that the NSA was collecting Americans' phone and Internet data, the agency has been under fire for what its critics say is a breach of Americans' constitutional rights. Recent polling shows that a majority of Americans oppose the government's phone and Internet surveillance, and Tuesday it was reported that President Barack Obama would propose an end to the NSA's bulk data collection.
Meanwhile, a number of television shows about espionage – like "Homeland" and "The Americans" – have flourished, focusing on spies that are deeply flawed heroes, or even anti-heroes. "Turn," which sees its TV debut April 6, seeks to ride this wave while depicting a completely different era of tradecraft. Based on the book "Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring," the series brings to life the Culper spy ring, a group of childhood friends who collected intelligence on the British Army for George Washington during the Revolutionary War. The show's writers and creators who joined Hayden on Tuesday's panel noted that unlike other Revolutionary-era spies, the existence of the Culper ring is not well known by the American public because they were good at their jobs. "Turn" creator Craig Silverstein described them as a network of "grass-roots spies" who never turned on one another.
"You know about Benedict Arnold. You know about Nathan Hale. But an absolute, iron rule about espionage: You know about the spies who fail. You don’t know about the spies who succeeded," Hayden said.