The Department of Defense Inspector General just released a heavily redacted version of the Intelligence Audit "Requirements for the TRAILBLAZER and THINTHREAD SYSTEMS."
NSA whistleblower Tom Drake served as a critical material witness during the investigation for this report. Drake's reward was an indictment under the Espionage Act. This Report is what government's case against NSA whistleblower Tom Drake was really about.
Drake would have been on trial this week had the Justice Department's case not crumbled two weeks ago in the face of negative judicial rulings and almost universally critical media coverage (chiefly in The New Yorker and on 60 Minutes).
The newly-released IG report completely vindicates Drake, and the Hotline complainants (former NSA officials J. Kirk Wiebe, Bill Binney and Ed Loomis, and former House Intelligence Committee staffer Diane Roark) who raised concerns that the National Security Agency (NSA) was trading the security of the American people for a undeveloped funding vehicle (Trailblazer) that needlessly invaded the privacy of Americans; all the while NSA rejected a viable, cheaper program (ThinThread) that contained privacy protections and was ready to deploy prior to 9/11. My organization, Government Accountability Project (GAP), represents Drake, Binney and Wiebe.
Despite the fact that most of the report has been redacted, it is clear from the little we can see that Trailblazer was a total failure and waste of money:
NSA . . . may be developing a less capable long-term digital network exploitation solution that will take longer and cost significantly more to develop.
And that ThinThread was exactly what Drake said it was on 60 minutes - "a breakthrough solution" - which the NSA shelved:
NSA 'disregarded solutions to urgent national security needs'"
The "digital network exploitation solution" that was "less capable," would "take longer" and would be more costly to develop was Trailblazer. The solution NSA disregarded was ThinThread.
The IG Report chronicles several NSA modernization studies, the first of which
observed that TRAILBLAZER was poorly executed and had an overly expensive . . .
Tellingly, the IG Report repeatedly warns that the personnel cooperating with the investigation feared reprisal:
We also interviewed several NSA and contractor personnel, many of whom asked not to be identified for fear of management reprisal.
Fear of reprisal was a credible fear, and it meant much more than simply losing a job, though such a fear usually serves to silence many employees. The original IG complainants became targets of a criminal investigation and three were subjected to simultaneous armed FBI raids. Binney described on 60 Minutes how he was pulled naked from the shower with a gun held to his head. All three believed the raids were retaliation for the IG complaint. Roark said inThe New Yorker
Roark, who always considered herself “a law-and-order person,” said of the raid, “This changed my faith.” . . . “I didn’t think the system was perfect, but I thought they’d play fair with me. They didn’t. I felt it was retribution.”
Drake was also subjected to an armed FBI raid, but worse, he was indicted for 10 felonies, charged under the Espionage Act (a charge that purposefully implied he was a traitor and enemy of the state), and faced decades in prison until the Justice Department's ill-conceived case imploded two weeks ago.
The IG Report also includes a slew of blanket denials by the NSA and substantial evidence that NSA attempted to suppress internal criticism. According to the IG Report, the
NSA modified or suppressed studies
But NSA management questioned this statement and complained that
the audit report did not identify where the information was obtainedThe Report did not identify sources because
We have documented information to support this statement, however, because of fear of reprisal, we agreed to keep the sources anonymous.
While it is commendable that the partial IG Report has been released, we don't yet know the complete story as so much of the Report has been redacted. However, what we do know confirms what Drake has been saying all along, and a fuller picture would only further implicate NSA and substantiate the whistleblowers. For that reason alone, NSA will no doubt fight to keep its malfeasance secret.
Special thanks and kudos to the Project on Government Oversight, particularly Nick Schwellenbach, who obtained the report after a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests from POGO, GAP and other media outlets.
Jesselyn Radack is the Homeland Security and Human Rights Director at the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower advocacy organization.