The former head of the CIA and the National Security Agency, General Michael Hayden has said that the reforms recently announced by president Barack Obama to tackle mass surveillance are limited, as they allow the spy agency "a pretty big box" in which to continue to operate.
Hayden was reported by the Guardian as speaking at an Oxford University lecture, when he said that while some of the reforms would be onerous for the NSA, the agency still had room to manoeuvre, enabling it to continue to collect metadata.
The former NSA chief said that Obama's reforms to ensure that phone calls of friendly leaders would not be listened to would be adhered to until the US saw fit to hack into the systems once again.
"I guess what I am saying is this president, who most people view as being quite different than his predecessor, doubled down on a programme being done under his predecessor. He gave the American intelligence community a pretty big box," Hayden said.
"The president is essentially trading some restraint, some oversight, in order to keep on doing fundamentally what he has been doing."
Hayden also believes that it is very unlikely NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden would be offered a plea bargain.
He explained that there was little enthusiasm inside the US government for a deal for Snowden, unlike other deals with whistleblowers in the past.
When asked whether Snowden would be allowed back into the US without a substantial prison sentence in exchange for a return of the thousands of leaked documents that he holds, Hayden said: "There have been arrangements but I do not think there is a lot of enthusiasm inside the US for that kind of deal."
Hayden accused the Guardian, the Washington Post and Der Spiegel, who have all obtained some of the leaked documents from Snowden, for exaggerating the issues, but said they have accelerated "a necessary and frankly inevitable discussion", before adding that the discussion itself had been "misshaped" by the media.