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NSA members are not 'alien bodies'; they're Americans

The government and National Security Agency must be more transparent with the American people despite mistakes made in the past, Gen. Michael Hayden said.

Employees at the National Security Agency aren't "alien bodies," Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of the NSA, said on Tuesday's Morning Joe.

"Don’t view this as 'them versus us.' I would ask [Americans] to become knowledgeable about the specifics of the program, not the bumper stickers, not the headlines…and then make their judgment," he said. 

Federal Judge Richard Leon ruled Monday that the NSA’s metadata collection program is likely unconstitutional because it doesn't adhere to the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure. The 68-page ruling is the first major victory for opponents of the metadata collection program since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents earlier this year revealing the extent of the agency’s controversial once-secret data gathering. The judge said the NSA program is "indiscriminate" and "arbitrary."

The NSA needs to be careful of abuses with its programs, and should report more to Congress of the authority it uses, said Judge Alberto Gonzales, former attorney general under President George W. Bush.

“If it appears that the agency is incapable of exercising the authorities without abuse, then I think it is legitimate to see whether continuation of these programs makes sense or not," he said on the show.

"If what the government has been doing for some time violates the most sacred tenants of the Constitution...does Edward Snowden then become a whistleblower?" host Joe Scarborough asked on Tuesday.

The former NSA insider recently placed second in TIME Magazine's "Person of the Year" list, behind first-place Pope Francis.

The role of a program only functions properly if it prevents imminent attack, said Hayden, adding that he would have preferred the judge's endorsement for review.

"We're going to have to have more transparency to sustain these programs inside of our own political culture," he said. "[NSA's] transparency now is discounted because it's being transparent after it has been accused of something."

The country's largest technology companies plan to meet with President Obama on Tuesday to discuss the NSA's widespread practice of data collection.