I appeared on Democracy Now! this morning with National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower, fellow Kossack, and my client Thomas Drake discussing the NSA's spying on American citizens, Drake's experience as the fourth person in history prosecuted under the Espionage Act for alleged mishandling of classified information, and Justice Department's using the Espionage Act as back-door of creating an Official Secrets Act to silence media sources and discourage potential whistleblowers.
Next up in the Obama administration's war on whistleblowers is CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou, who exposed waterboarding and the CIA's torture program. Now he is sixth person charged under the Espionage Act for alleged mishandling of classified information during Obama's presidency - more than all past presidents combined - while the CIA officers who engaged in torture and the Justice Department lawyers who rationalized torture in so-called "legal" opinions have not been held accountable.
NSA expert and author Jim Bamford also appeared on Democracy Now this morning and discussed his recent blockbuster article in Wired Magazine, which chronicles the NSA's building a massive data collection center in Utah:
Bamford's must-read Wired expose included brave comments from NSA whistleblower (and GAP client) William Binney:
William Binney was a senior NSA crypto-mathematician largely responsible for automating the agency’s worldwide eavesdropping network. A tall man with strands of black hair across the front of his scalp and dark, determined eyes behind thick-rimmed glasses, the 68-year-old spent nearly four decades breaking codes and finding new ways to channel billions of private phone calls and email messages from around the world into the NSA’s bulging databases. As chief and one of the two cofounders of the agency’s Signals Intelligence Automation Research Center, Binney and his team designed much of the infrastructure that’s still likely used to intercept international and foreign communications.
He explains that the agency could have installed its tapping gear at the nation’s cable landing stations—the more than two dozen sites on the periphery of the US where fiber-optic cables come ashore. If it had taken that route, the NSA would have been able to limit its eavesdropping to just international communications, which at the time was all that was allowed under US law. Instead it chose to put the wiretapping rooms at key junction points throughout the country—large, windowless buildings known as switches—thus gaining access to not just international communications but also to most of the domestic traffic flowing through the US. The network of intercept stations goes far beyond the single room in an AT&T building in San Francisco exposed by a whistle-blower in 2006. “I think there’s 10 to 20 of them,” Binney says. “That’s not just San Francisco; they have them in the middle of the country and also on the East Coast.”
Binney left the NSA in late 2001, shortly after the agency launched its warrantless-wiretapping program. “They violated the Constitution setting it up,” he says bluntly. “But they didn’t care. They were going to do it anyway, and they were going to crucify anyone who stood in the way. When they started violating the Constitution, I couldn’t stay.” Binney says Stellar Wind was far larger than has been publicly disclosed and included not just eavesdropping on domestic phone calls but the inspection of domestic email. At the outset the program recorded 320 million calls a day, he says, which represented about 73 to 80 percent of the total volume of the agency’s worldwide intercepts. The haul only grew from there. According to Binney—who has maintained close contact with agency employees until a few years ago—the taps in the secret rooms dotting the country are actually powered by highly sophisticated software programs that conduct “deep packet inspection,” examining Internet traffic as it passes through the 10-gigabit-per-second cables at the speed of light.
Stellar Wind has already been the subject of a constitutional crisis. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Bob Mueller described Stellar Wind in Time Magazine, and how he almost resigned over the FBI's participation:
Mueller had every reason to believe his term as director would end long before this day. He had written his resignation letter on March 12, 2004, and fully expected to deliver it. At issue was a highly classified surveillance program, called Stellar Wind, that President Bush approved after 9/11. For the first time since Congress forbade the practice in 1978, the National Security Agency was spying on domestic communications traffic without a warrant. In the second week of March 2004, Attorney General John Ashcroft's Justice Department ruled that Stellar Wind was illegal. The next day, Ashcroft fell gravely ill with acute pancreatitis. Bush sent two top aides to George Washington University Hospital, where the Attorney General lay in critical condition. White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and chief of staff Andrew Card Jr. asked the semiconscious Ashcroft to sign a document reversing the Justice Department's ruling. Mueller arrived at the hospital just after Card and Gonzales retreated in defeat. His notes described Ashcroft as "feeble, barely articulate."
A close associate says Mueller saw the visit as a "cowardly and outrageous" attempt to take advantage of a sick man. The next afternoon, Mueller learned that Bush had reauthorized Stellar Wind over formal Justice Department objections. That night, he shut down the FBI's part in it and stayed up until 1:30 a.m. composing a letter: "Should the President order the continuation of the FBI's participation in the program, and in the absence of further legal advice from the AG, I would be constrained to resign as Director of the FBI."
Binney, and his former NSA colleagues, J. Kirk Wiebe, Edward Loomis and former congressional staffer Diane Roark all blew the whistle through proper channels on the massive waste, fraud, abuse, mismanagement and danger to national security associated with NSA's billion-dollar boondoggle Trailblazer, and, as a result, were targeted in a pre-textual investigation and threatened with criminal prosecution. The Obama administration indicted Drake under the Espionage Act and he faced decades in prison until the government's case collapsed in spectacular fashion under the weight of the truth. The epilogue: All five whistleblowers have been forced to sue NSA to get their property back - property the FBI seized in armed raids over four years ago.