The Growing Power of the NSA

We may be much closer to living in an Orwellian state than many think, suggests William Binney, a National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower. Binney served as an NSA employee for almost 40 years, including time as technical director of the NSA’s World Geopolitical and Military Analysis Reporting Group, before leaving his post in October of 2001. In his first interview since he quit his job because of the domestic surveillance program, he sat down with Democracy Now! to discuss the NSA’s colossal power to spy on Americans.

Binney interviewed with two other individuals who have been frequent targets of government surveillance: Laura Poitras, an Oscar nominated documentary filmmaker, and producer and Jacob Appelbaum, a computer security researcher and Wikileaks volunteer. Both have been interrogated and regularly detained upon entrance into the United States. Their computers, cameras, and cell phones have been seized and presumably copied.

William Binney began the conversation discussing the role of the NSA and how its operation drastically changed post 9/11. After the 2001 attacks, the NSA began collecting roughly 320 million records of US –to- US citizen communication from commercial companies, largely AT&T. After this occurred, Binney “knew [he] could not stay there” and “had to leave.” Not only did this collection infringe upon constitutional rights, it also violated the Pen Registry Act, the Stored Communications Act, the Electronic Privacy Act, and the Intelligence Acts of 1947 and 1978.

With knowledge of the illegal data collection that was occurring, Binney and a few colleagues filed a DOD-IG report to the Pentagon and Inspector General reporting on the corruption, waste, fraud, and abuse that was occurring at the NSA. Because his signature was on this document, his home was raided on July 26, 2007, with his family present. Roughly a dozen FBI Agents entered his residence with guns drawn. He was separated from his family and interrogated.

Binney believes that the US government has copies of many or almost all e-mails sent in the United States. He also mentioned that surveillance has increased under the Obama administration. In his own assessment, Binney estimates that 20 trillion transactions between US citizens have been accumulated. This only accounted for phone calls and emails, no credit card transactions, online searches, etc.

The NSA is quietly building the largest spy center in the country in Bluffdale, Utah. This facility will become a bottomless database of information stored by the agency, including private emails, cell phone calls, google searches, and other personal data. Binney was a key source of James Bamford’s recent exposé in Wired Magazine’s article surrounding the Bluffdale center.

Laura Poitras reports in her interview that she has been detained a staggering 40 times at the U.S. border. This detention began in 2006 when she started working on a series of films reflecting upon the U.S. post 9/11. Similarly, Jacob Appelbaum has been searched and detained at the border since 2010. He tells Democracy Now! that he has been interrogated about a dozen times. On one occasion, Appelbaum had his laptop and cell phone confiscated. When asked to further explain the situation and enlighten the audience as to why these items were seized, Appelbaum stated that he could not talk about that situation because “we don’t live in a free country.”

National security whistleblowers have a rocky road ahead of them after they blow the whistle. They have very few, if any rights. National security whistleblowers risk losing their security clearance and under the current administration, they risk criminal prosecution under the Espionage Act (see our blog posting on Thomas Drake to find out more on this issue).

If Americans want to know what abuses are occurring within the intelligence community, we must pass strong, sustainable whistleblower protection rights for national security employees.  Those uncovering the waste and fraud must have a secure avenue to report violations that harm the public and waste taxpayer money.

*Intern Kara Gleason contributed this article

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