Gen. Michael Hayden, NSA director under former president George W. Bush, defended the legality of the agency's massive phone and internet data surveillance programs on Wednesday, calling them important and suggesting that opponents didn't understand what was actually going on.
Speaking with CNN's Jake Tapper, Hayden downplayed criticism of the data collection effort as governmental overreach by claiming President Barack Obama's administration had actually been more forthcoming than Bush's on the issue.
"Frankly, the Obama administration was more transparent about this effort than we were in the Bush administration," he said. "I mean, they made this metadata collection activity available to all the members of Congress. Not just all the members of the intelligence committees."
Some lawmakers have admitted that they were aware of the NSA's activities before the string of reports last week, which has led many to defend the programs as vital and standard procedures. Others have spoken out against them in the wake of the recent disclosures, arguing that the reports held details that they hadn't been told about and wouldn't have supported.
Despite the supposed decision to loop in more lawmakers on the process, Hayden said that Obama's decision not to stop, and even expand, the NSA efforts was "really good news" and something of a redemption for national security officials in the Bush administration.
"We should just take a sense of satisfaction that what we were doing, once candidate Obama became President Obama, he saw that these were of great value and frankly, were being very carefully done," Hayden said. "National security looks a little different from the Oval Office than it does from a hotel room in Iowa."
Over the weekend, Hayden gave an interview with NPR attempting to explain how NSA surveillance was being used to fight terrorism. Hayden similarly told CNN on Wednesday that NSA surveillance of phone records had turned up a "series of terrorist reports" under his tenure.
Hayden did appear to have one concern -- about Edward Snowden, the source of the information about the NSA programs. Hayden suggested that a true whistleblower must raise their hand "inside the institution” and take the problem up the chain of command. A number of lawmakers have taken their criticism of Snowden further, calling for him to be prosecuted for releasing intelligence secrets.