Glenn Greenwald and Michael Hayden debate surveillance

Every year, Canada's Munk debates feature high-level, high-profile debates on burning policy issues. This year, they debated surveillance, and the participants were Glenn Greendwald and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian on the anti-surveillance side and former NSA and CIA chief Michael Hayden and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz on the pro-surveillance side. Although the debating partners do a lot in this, the real freight is carried by Hayden and Greenwald, both of whom are more fact-intensive than the others.

I have a bias here, but I think that Greenwald wiped up the floor with Hayden (the post-debate polls from the room support this view). It was particularly useful to have Hayden being grilled by a well-informed opponent who was allowed to go after the easy dismissals and glib deflections. Normally, he gets to deliver some well-polished talking points and walk away -- this was something I hadn't seen before.

This is just about the best video you're going to watch on the surveillance debate. It kicks off around the 30m mark.

Watch Live: Glenn Greenwald Debates Former NSA Director Michael Hayden

Notable Replies

  1. I really wanted to watch this. But I swear I couldn't watch more than 60 seconds of Michael Hayden before I had to turn it off. His unctuous patronising tone had me enraged before a minute was up. Behind every sentence there's a whiff of lazy condescension; a sense of him being so savvy, and everyone else so naive, that he knows his real-man wisdom is wasted on us, but maybe--just maybe--when we grow up we'll appreciate what a difficult topic this is and come to realise he was right all along. Guess what, Michael Hayden, your detractors are grown up, many of them are much smarter than you, and even to the casually observing layman it's plain you're a slippery eel who may not even have understood his opponents' points, even though they've been aired ad nauseam by Greenwald and others.

  2. I didn't think it was as much of a slam-dunk as Cory made it out to be. I tend to side on the side of privacy, but Hayden made some good points. Dershowitz was a great trial lawyer, but he undermined their position by constantly saying that "it's a work in progress". Greenwald was the only one who treated it like a classic debate (as a medal-holder for my high school debate team, I know a bit about this) instead of a Sunday talk show. He made points, some emotional of course, but had reams of quotes and facts to back up every single point he made (which were never rebutted). That's a classic debater. It was entertaining watching Hayden getting increasingly riled at Greenwald. Very substantive debate - few talking points - both sides gave a spirited defense of their propositions.

    Oh, and Ohanian had some extremely relevant points regarding the NSA undermining the entire structure of security on the Internet, but NOBODY engaged those points. That made me angry, but I think everyone was focused on Greenwald vs Hayden.

  3. I just loved it when Hayden gave the great example of how a terrorist plot could have been stopped by NSA activity and NSA wouldn't even know it-- essentially, the spying is worth it because I have this hypothetical example where by its very nature it will never be known. Somebody should have sandbagged him on that one.

    Dershowitz, Dershowitz, how many ways are there to despise thee? Bringing up the War Measures Act and the FLQ crisis? To support your position (because it was a "Liberal" government)? On stage in Canada? Patronizing, ignorant, offensive, and profoundly stupid, all in one.

  4. The best part is at the end when Michael Hayden says "trust me" and pauses too long and everyone laughs derisively.

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