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June 21st, 2013
06:11 PM ET

Fmr. Homeland Security head: Trading hostages is a 'dangerous road' to travel

Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is the only known member of the U.S. military in captivity, the only American P.O.W. from the war in Afghanistan.

There is now news that the U.S. will engage in peace talks with the Taliban and encouraging signs that Bergdahl will be included in a prisoner swap. The Taliban are reportedly asking for the release five senior al Qaeda operatives from Guantanamo in exchange for Bergdahl.

But former officials caution against negotiating with the Taliban.

"Trading hostages, even though we desperately want to get our own back, is a very dangerous road to go down," said former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

"The problem is when you do that, you're sending a signal that people who are captured improperly become bargaining chips. And that's a dangerous signal to send," said Chertoff. "I would be very, very careful before I made any kind of a deal involving releasing very bad guys in return for either negotiating a resolution to some conflict, or getting a prisoner back."

Chertoff served under former President George W. Bush. The Bush administration created the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an organization that appears to have wielded little power, and was given scant attention by government officials until recently, after NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked classified details about U.S. surveillance programs.

"When I was at DHS, we actually had our own privacy officer. And that was kind of the department analogue to the board," said Chertoff. "Our privacy officer was very, very helpful to us. It was important to be able to get a perspective from the privacy standpoint about some of the regulations and measures we were considering, and we viewed that person as an ally and as a valued adviser and not as an adversary."

The Guardian newspaper published a new document, leaked by Snowden on Thursday. The document highlighted a directive, dated 2007, that the government can hold on to details of Americans' data for five years, and can retain and make use of information that is "inadvertently acquired," stuff that they did not mean to get, but did.

That appears to be a loophole through which any analyst could do almost anything if it is "inadvertently acquired."

"I think it ought to comfort people," said Chertoff.

"These rules are reviewed and approved by an independent court. And if there's a breach of the rules, the court polices that and if necessary sanctions the government," said Chertoff.

Chertoff also said inadvertent monitoring should not immediately spook Americans.

"Let's say you're monitoring a phone call involving a terrorist overseas and they call a number and it turns out that it's an American number. Now, normally, you would say, well, it's an American citizen, we're going to discard that," said Chertoff. "But let's say during the conversation, before you ascertain who it is, they're talking about a bombing attack. Well, at that point, you have the right to say, look, even though I'm not targeting the American, something has now emerged that indicates that this American is in fact involved in terrorism."

Chertoff said at that point, the government would have to go back to the court to get permission to pursue the lead further.

For our full interview with former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, check out the video above.

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