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The Acela Is a Great Place to Stalk or Overhear Government Officials The Acela Is a Great Place to Stalk or Overhear Government Officials

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The Acela Is a Great Place to Stalk or Overhear Government Officials

A former NSA director isn't the only person to have some issues with being overheard on a train.

October 24, 2013

British Prime Minister David Cameron boards Amtrak's Acela Express July 21, 2010 in Washington.(Stefan Rousseau-Pool/Getty Images)

Note to reporters with some gumption: Ride the Acela, you'll get scoops.

Note to highly recognizable, but private, former government officials: Avoid the Acela.

Thursday afternoon, Tom Matzzie, a clean-energy entrepreneur (per LinkedIn), and sometime Huffington Post blogger sat behind former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden. The spy was talking to a journalist, who remains unknown, and requested anonymity as he supposedly bashed the Obama administration—which, even for the onetime head of the world's most cloistered agency, is a lot easier to do behind the moniker "Former Senior Administration Official."

Those tweets, and the subsequently amazing picture (which Hayden's office apparently authorized), are here:

But this is not the first time, or even the second, that a high-profile figure has been either stalked and pushed into an interview (there's nowhere to run on the train) or overheard. We've found at least three cases, which if you know the laws of journalism, makes this a trend worth writing about.

Earlier this year, Julia Ioffe of The New Republic successfully forced former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld into spilling some quotes, if only to reveal that his clout at Princeton had waned. "How do people get in? No one I recommend gets in anymore!" he told her. Ioffe stalked him into the first-class cabin, and they chatted until the conductor kicked her out.

In more local-level government eavesdropping, a political adviser to former New York Gov. David Paterson was once busted talking to the governor on a crowded New York-to-D.C. Acela speaking "disparagingly" about current Gov. Andrew Cuomo. And, sure, let's take this trend global: In August 2008, the British government accidentally leaked a fuel-benefit proposal when a senior official was caught talking about it a bit too loudly on a train to London.

It's refreshing in the journalism world--a world of anonymous sources and officials playing hard to get--that you can break a story simply by overhearing something juicy. So look out for "Dateline: ACELA, SOMEWHERE IN NEW JERSEY."

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