SPIEGEL: In November 1999, you visited Germany and went to the NSA station in Bad Aibling, and afterwards you wrote a letter to the Chancellery where you assured them that you are not conducting espionage against
Hayden: Germany, that's right.
SPIEGEL: It could have been a wonderful friendship.
Hayden: I took as a principal position that it was worth it to me to stop collection activities in Germany -- not on Germany -- that were overhangs from the occupation and to stop that in return for entering into a very mature relationship with the German intelligence services. That was the policy we followed when I was director. We made decisions, and activities stopped -- not against Germany but from Germany, out of sensitivity to German sovereignty, in order to enable us to approach an intelligence relationship with Germany among equals.
SPIEGEL: But two years later, the surveillance of the chancellor's cell phone started. Were we Germans too naïve?
Hayden: I can neither confirm nor deny what we do or don't do, but in essence, what may or may not have been done against the chancellor is quite different from industrial strength activities being conducted from German soil. What we may or may not have started to do in 2002 affects very little the sincerity of what it is we want to do as partners with the BND (Germany's foreign intelligence service).
SPIEGEL: As a reaction, the Germans are now considering conducting counterintelligence not only against Russians, the Iranians and the Chinese, but also against NSA's and CIA's offices in Germany. Would that deepen the rift between the two countries?
Hayden: No, that's a professional reaction. That's a choice that's fully within German competence, and it in no way affects friendship between us.
SPIEGEL: Given the fact that, as you said, Americans might have underestimated the sensitivity of Germans with regards to the surveillance, don't you think it would be a valuable approach to reach a no-spy agreement with Germany?
Hayden: No-spy agreements are just too difficult. The White House made it quite clear, "No, we're not going to do no-spy agreements." It's just too hard to do, not even with the British.
SPIEGEL: How can this damaged trans-Atlantic relationship be repaired?
Hayden: I think the director of national intelligence, the director of CIA and the new director of NSA need to put Germany very early in their travel plans and meet with the German service. The areas of cooperation between us are so vast that there's plenty of work to be done in there. Let me draw this little comparison. I say, look, if this is in American interests and values and so on and this is our closest ally ever in the universe: It doesn't match always. There is so much to do in the areas where our interests and values and activities overlap that my sense is that, going forward, we should focus on that and deepen our cooperation.
SPIEGEL: You mentioned China. Would you say that China is the greatest challenge in cyberspace for America's intelligence agencies?
Hayden: What is disturbing about the Chinese is two or three things. They do connect espionage for straight-on, direct-effect industrial advantage. Second, although I think the Americans and some others are more sophisticated than the Chinese at doing this, no one is doing it on the scale that the Chinese are doing it. As a professional intelligence officer, I just stand back in awe at the depth, breadth and persistence of the Chinese espionage effort against the West and the United States, so that's a second reality. My answer to your question is a simple yes.
SPIEGEL: Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA is conducting similar operations against China. They monitor the head of state of China. They monitored a couple of universities. NSA is breaking into some Chinese companies. Isn't it hypocritical to complain and yet do similar things?
Hayden: It's only hypocritical if you had a peculiar and inaccurate way of looking at it at the beginning, and I have been quite public. I'd say, "Look, we spy. We're really good at it." There are two differences between us and the Chinese. We're actually more sophisticated, and we're self-limited. We don't do industrial espionage. I never claimed the moral high ground, you seem to be suggesting that we didn't spy. Let me play a joke on myself. I say, you know, if I had to talk to the Chinese about it, I'd go to Beijing, and I'd sit across the table, which I have done, and I would begin the conversation, "Look, you spy, we spy, but you steal the wrong stuff."
SPIEGEL: Give us a prediction about Snowden's future.
Hayden: I don't know. I think he asked for an extension of his visa. I think they will just kind of toss the ball up and keep juggling it for another year to see what happens.
SPIEGEL: Wouldn't it be better to bring him home
SPIEGEL: and grant him clemency?
Hayden: No. God, no. No. No. This is the single greatest hemorrhaging of legitimate American secrets in the history of this country. It is incredibly damaging, and if we give him some sort of clemency or amnesty, all we're doing is teaching the next Edward Snowden that if you do this, make sure you steal a whole bunch of stuff.Edward Snowden has given this data to all these other folks. Glenn Greenwald has got it. Laura Poitras has got it. Bart Gellman has got it. DER SPIEGEL apparently has it. I mean, this stuff is coming out beyond the control of Edward Snowden.
SPIEGEL: You've been monitored yourself on a train to New York while you spoke confidentially on the phone. A blogger overheard you and tweeted your conversations.
Hayden: My only objection was that he misrepresented what I said. If you're going to intercept somebody else's communications, get it right.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Hayden, we thank you for this interview.