Three NSA whistleblowers speak out
Posted by Charles II on July 4, 2013
Peter Eisler and Susan Page, USAT 6/13/13
Q: Did Edward Snowden do the right thing in going public?
William Binney: We tried to stay for the better part of seven years inside the government trying to get the government to recognize the unconstitutional, illegal activity that they were doing and openly admit that and devise certain ways that would be constitutionally and legally acceptable to achieve the ends they were really after. And that just failed totally because no one in Congress or — we couldn’t get anybody in the courts, and certainly the Department of Justice and inspector general’s office didn’t pay any attention to it. And all of the efforts we made just produced no change whatsoever. All it did was continue to get worse and expand.
Q: So Snowden did the right thing?
Binney: Yes, I think he did.
Q: You three wouldn’t criticize him for going public from the start?
J. Kirk Wiebe: Correct.
Binney: In fact, I think he saw and read about what our experience was, and that was part of his decision-making.
Wiebe: We failed, yes.
Jesselyn Radack: Not only did they go through multiple and all the proper internal channels and they failed, but more than that, it was turned against them. … The inspector general was the one who gave their names to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution under the Espionage Act. And they were all targets of a federal criminal investigation, and Tom ended up being prosecuted — and it was for blowing the whistle.
Binney: What it [Verizon warrant leaked by Snowden] is really saying is the NSA becomes a processing service for the FBI to use to interrogate information directly. … The implications are that everybody’s privacy is violated, and it can retroactively analyze the activity of anybody in the country back almost 12 years.
Radack: I consider this to be an unlawful order. While I am glad that we finally have something tangible to look at, this order came from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. They have no jurisdiction to authorize domestic-to-domestic surveillance.
Binney: Not surprised, but it’s documentation that can’t be refuted.
Wiebe: It’s formal proof of our suspicions.
Q: Even given the senior positions that you all were in, you had never actually seen one of these?
Drake: They’re incredibly secret. It’s a very close hold. … It’s a secret court with a secret appeals court. They are just not widely distributed, even in the government.
Q: What was your first reaction when you saw it?
Binney: Mine was that it’s documentary evidence of what we have been saying all along, so they couldn’t deny it.
Drake: For me, it was material evidence of an institutional crime that we now claim is criminal.
Binney: Which is still criminal.
Wiebe: It’s criminal.
Binney: Part of his [Snowden’s\ job as the system administrator, he was to maintain the system. Keep the databases running. Keep the communications working. Keep the programs that were interrogating them operating. So that meant he was like a super-user. He could go on the network or go into any file or any system and change it or add to it or whatever, just to make sure — because he would be responsible to get it back up and running if, in fact, it failed.
So that meant he had access to go in and put anything. That’s why he said, I think, “I can even target the president or a judge.” If he knew their phone numbers or attributes, he could insert them into the target list which would be distributed worldwide. And then it would be collected, yeah, that’s right. As a super-user, he could do that.
Three former whistle-blowers discuss whether Edward Snowden could tap the president’s phone and about what it means to be a “super-user” with USA TODAY reporters Susan Page and Peter Eisler.
Q: As he said, he could tap the president’s phone?
Binney: As a super-user and manager of data in the data system, yes, they could go in and change anything.
Q: What should Edward Snowden expect now?
Binney: Well, first of all, I think he should expect to be treated just like Bradley Manning (an Army private now being court-martialed for leaking documents to WikiLeaks). The U.S. government gets ahold of him, that’s exactly the way he will be treated.
Q: He’ll be prosecuted?
Binney: First tortured, then maybe even rendered and tortured and then incarcerated and then tried and incarcerated or even executed.
Q: What would you say to him?
[Binney says he would caution Snowden against making releases relating to sources and methods]
Drake: I actually salute him. I will say it right here. I actually salute him, given my experience over many, many years both inside and outside the system. Remember, I saw what he saw. I want to re-emphasize that. What he did was a magnificent act of civil disobedience. He’s exposing the inner workings of the surveillance state. And it’s in the public interest. It truly is.
Wiebe: Well, I don’t want anyone to think that he had an alternative. No one should (think that). There is no path for intelligence-community whistle-blowers who know wrong is being done. There is none. It’s a toss of the coin, and the odds are you are going to be hammered.
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