As a senior official at the National Security Agency Thomas Drake witnessed not only widespread waste, fraud, and abuse, but also gross violations of our 4th Amendment rights.
He was a material witness and whistleblower on a multi-year Department of Defense Inspector General audit of a failed multi-billion dollar flagship program called TRAILBLAZER and a breakthrough multi-million dollar intelligence data collection, processing, and analysis system called THINTHREAD that was ready to deploy.
THINTHREAD had been carefully designed to handle data in massive amounts and variety, but to do so with built-in 4th Amendment and privacy safeguards, while providing superior intelligence. NSA rejected it.
Tom Drake stepped forward with the integrity, the courage, and — let’s say it, the true patriotism — to blow the whistle. The Department of Justice retaliated by indicting and prosecuting Drake under the Espionage Act and, once again, became the laughing stock of the legal profession.
In Drake’s case, government attempts to abuse the law to intimidate those who would speak truth to power expose in a telling way what has become the military-industrial-intelligence-surveillance-cybersecurity-congressional-media complex and its abuses, which drain our treasury, endanger our liberty, and make our country less — not more — secure.
Sam Adams Associates is not the first group to give high recognition to Tom Drake’s fearless integrity and endurance in the ordeal he was put through. Earlier this year he was awarded the Ridenhour Truth-Telling Prize.
In partnership with Jesselyn Radack he writes and speaks on whistle blowing, privacy, civil liberties, secrecy, surveillance and abusive government power.
Presented this 21st day of November 2011 in Washington, DC, by admirers of the example set by former CIA analyst, Sam Adams.
By Jenna McLaughlin, Feb 10, 2017, at The Intercept
IN 2010, THOMAS DRAKE, a former senior employee at the National Security Agency, was charged with espionage for speaking to a reporter from the Baltimore Sun about a bloated, dysfunctional intelligence program he believed would violate Americans’ privacy. The case against him eventually fell apart, and he pled guilty to a single misdemeanor, but his career in the NSA was over.
Though Drake was largely vindicated, the central question he raised about technology and privacy has never been resolved. Almost seven years have passed now, but Pat Eddington, a former CIA analyst, is still trying to prove that Drake was right.
While working for Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., Eddington had the unique opportunity to comb through still-classified documents that outline the history of two competing NSA programs known as ThinThread and Trailblazer. He’s seen an unredacted version of the Pentagon inspector general’s 2004 audit of the NSA’s failures during that time, and has filed Freedom of Information Act requests.
In January, Eddington decided to take those efforts a step further by suing the Department of Defense to obtain the material, he tells The Intercept. “Those documents completely vindicate” those who advocated for ThinThread at personal risk, says Eddington.
The controversy dates back to 1996, when Ed Loomis, then a computer systems designer for the NSA, along with his team worked to move the NSA’s collection capabilities from the analog to the digital world. The shift would allow the NSA to scoop up internet packets, stringing them together into legible communications, and automating a process to instantly decide which communications were most interesting, while masking anything from Americans. The prototype, called GrandMaster, would need to ingest vast amounts of data, but only spit out what was most valuable, deleting or encrypting everything else.
Then in the fall of 2001, four passenger airliners were hijacked by terrorists as part of a suicide plot against Washington, D.C., and New York City. The U.S. intelligence community faced a disturbing wakeup call: its vast collection systems had failed to prevent the attacks.
Yet, in response, the NSA simply started collecting more data.
The NSA sent out a bid to multiple defense contractors, seeking a program that could collect and analyze communications from phones and the internet. Science Applications Internal Corporation, or SAIC, won the contract, known as Trailblazer. Meanwhile, internally, NSA employees were developing a similar, less costly alternative called ThinThread, a follow-on to GrandMaster. ThinThread would collect online communications, sort them, and mask data belonging to Americans.
Those involved in ThinThread argue that their approach was better than a collect-it-all approach taken by NSA.
“Bulk collection kills people,” says Bill Binney, a former NSA analyst, who rose to be a senior technical official with a dream of automating the agency’s espionage. “You collect everything, dump it on the analyst, and they can’t see the threat coming, can’t stop it,” he says.
Binney built a back-end system — a processor that would draw on data collected by ThinThread, analyze it, look at whether or not the traffic was involves American citizens, and pass on what was valuable for foreign intelligence.
“Bulk acquisition doesn’t work,” agrees Kirk Wiebe, a former NSA senior analyst, who was trying to help convince NSA of ThinThread’s value at the time.
The analysts are drowning in data, and Binney and Wiebe believe ThinThread would have solved the problem by helping the NSA sort through the deluge automatically while protecting privacy using encryption.
But Binney and Wiebe say advocates of ThinThread hit every possible bureaucratic roadblock on the way, sitting in dozens of meetings with lawyers and lawmakers. In the meantime, Gen. Michael Hayden, the director of the NSA at the time, said he decided to fund an outside contract for a larger effort, focused on gathering all communications, not just those over the internet, as ThinThread was designed to do.
Additionally, while ThinThread masked American communications, Hayden’s legal and technical advisors were concerned the collection itself would be a problem. Some of Hayden’s senior officials at the NSA came from SAIC, the company that won contract to design a proof of concept for Trailblazer.
“A tiny group of people at NSA had developed a capability for next to no money at all to give the government an unprecedented level of access to any number of foreign terrorists,” Eddington says. “Instead that system was shut down in favor of an SAIC boondoggle that cost taxpayers, by my last count, close to a billion dollars.”
He argues the contract, and the “incestuous” relationship between the NSA chief and the contractor never received the scrutiny it deserved. “It was clearly an ethical problem,” Loomis said.
Ultimately, however, the NSA went with Trailblazer. Hayden rejected the ThinThread proposal because the intelligence community’s lawyers were concerned it wouldn’t work on a global scale, and that it would vacuum up too much American data. Hayden has continued dismissing concerns years later as the grumblings of disgruntled employees. Hayden told PBS Frontline ThinThread “was not the answer to the problems we were facing, with regard to the volume, variety and velocity of modern communications.”
In 2002, Wiebe, Binney, Loomis, Drake, and Diane Roark, a Republican staffer on the House Intelligence Committee who had been advocating for ThinThread, united to complain to the Defense Department’s inspector general, arguing that ThinThread, while still a prototype, would be the best surveillance system. The oversight body completed its report in 2004, which included major concerns about Trailblazer.
“We talked about going for the nuclear option,” Wiebe said, referring to discussions at the time about contacting the press.
But Drake went it alone, however, never telling his colleagues what he planned to do. Stories about the disagreements started showing up in news headlines based on leaks. The Bush administration in 2007 sent the FBI after the whistleblowers, raiding each of the whistleblowers’ homes who raised complaints to the Pentagon inspector general. Drake faced espionage charges after speaking to a reporter from the Baltimore Sun about the alleged mismanagement and waste in the NSA.
Though Drake wasn’t sent to prison, he lost his career in government, and now works at an Apple store. The question of whether ThinThread would have provided a better capability than Trailblazer was never resolved.
While ThinThread never made it to production, some of the analytic elements, minus the privacy protections, made it into Fort Meade as part of a massive surveillance program now known as Stellar Wind.
But there may be a way to settle the debate. The watchdog agency tasked with oversight of the Department of Defense completed a full investigation into the battle between ThinThread and the Trailblazer. The Pentagon inspector general published a heavily redacted version of that investigation in 2011; that report is now the only public record available, aside from the account of the whistleblowers who exposed it.
Despite everything that’s come out about its surveillance programs, the NSA still won’t release the full ThinThread investigation. “I don’t really know what they’re trying to hide,” said Loomis.
Loomis says he thinks those redactions were more for the sake of Hayden’s reputation than protecting real classified information. He eventually documented the saga in a self-published book called “NSA’s Transformation: An Executive Branch Black Eye.”
Drake told The Intercept in an email that efforts to uncover the Pentagon inspector general’s ThinThread investigation were a large part of his defense. Since then, the Office of Special Counsel concluded last March that the Department of Justice may have destroyed evidence that might have helped exonerate him.
In the meantime, however, hope is fading that the entire story of ThinThread will emerge from behind the government door of secrecy. “We’ve been trying for 15 or 16 years now to bring the U.S. government the technical solution to save lives, but they fight us left and right,” said Wiebe.
Eddington says the ThinThread controversy demonstrates the lack of oversight of the intelligence community. “The mentality that gave us this system is still in place,” he says. “We could see this become de facto permanent,” he said.
Long before Edward Snowden went public, John Crane was a top Pentagon official fighting to protect NSA whistleblowers. Instead their lives were ruined – and so was his.
Snowden calls for whistleblower shield after claims by Pentagon source.
Exclusive: Pentagon source goes on record against whistleblower program
by Mark Hertsgaard
(Read full article at The Guardian)
from the double-standards dept
The Washington Post has a big story delving deep into how the Hillary Clinton email scandal happened, noting that Clinton just didn’t want to give up her BlackBerry, even as the NSA told her repeatedly that it wasn’t secure and there were serious risks involved. What’s amazing, from the story, is how much everyone was focused on the BlackBerry side of things, and sort of skipped over the fact that she was using a private email account with the server set up in her basement. The WaPo article notes that for the first few months in her job as Secretary of State, the email server didn’t even have basic encryption tools enabled. All of that is a travesty, and you should read the whole article to understand the issue more, but I wanted to focus in on a related issue: the high court/low court treatment of Hillary Clinton as compared to others. In particular, the situation with Thomas Drake, the NSA whistleblower.
Almost five years ago, we wrote about the Thomas Drake case, highlighting some key passages in an astoundingly thorough New Yorker piece by Jane Mayer, which ripped the government’s case to shreds. That long article is also worth reading, but for this story, the key points are that Drake was getting on some people’s nerves by complaining about the decisions the NSA was making in the wake of 9/11 — moving towards using an expensive computer system that would suck up everyone’s data, while he and others had worked on a much more cost-efficient system that would get better results and had built-in protections for civil liberties. Drake blew the whistle and provided information to a Congressional oversight staffer.
Exclusive: Courage, like cowardice, can grow when an action by one person influences decisions by others, either toward bravery or fear. Thus, the gutsy whistle-blowing by some NSA officials inspired Edward Snowden to expose mass data collection on all Americans, recalls ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.
By Ray McGovern
When Edward Snowden in early June 2013 began to reveal classified data showing criminal collect-it-all surveillance programs operated by the U.S. government’s National Security Agency, former NSA professionals became freer to spell out the liberties taken with the Bill of Rights, as well as the feckless, counterproductive nature of bulk electronic data collection.
On Jan. 7, 2014, four senior retired specialists with a cumulative total of 144 years of work with NSA – William Binney, Thomas Drake, Edward Loomis, and Kirk Wiebe – prepared a Memorandum for the President providing a comprehensive account of the problems at NSA, together with suggestions as to how they might be best addressed.
The purpose was to inform President Obama as fully as possible, as he prepared to take action in light of Snowden’s revelations.
On Jan. 23, 2015 in Berlin, Binney was honored with the annual Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence. Ed Snowden was live-streamed-in for the occasion, and said, “Without Bill Binney there would be no Ed Snowden.” (Binney had been among the first to speak out publicly about NSA abuses; apparently that emboldened Snowden to do what he did.)
Snowden had already said when he fled to Hong Kong in June 2013 that he had learned an extremely important lesson from the four years of government persecution/prosecution of Tom Drake; namely, that he, Ed Snowden, had to leave the country in order to fulfill his mission – and to have some reasonable chance to avoid spending the rest of his life behind bars. (Eventually, all the felony charges against Drake were dismissed.)
An important take-away lesson from Binney’s and Drake’s boldness and tenacity is that one never knows what impetus courageous truth-tellers can give to other, potential whistleblowers – like Ed Snowden.
(full article here)
In this video acTVism Munich brings into light what privacy means for the indivdual and society, i.e, why it is an essential ingredient for democracy & economy. Following high-profile whistleblowers provide their views on the issue of privacy in this video:
William Binney: Former highly placed intelligence official with the United States National Security Agency (NSA) turned whistleblower who resigned on October 31, 2001, after more than 30 years with the agency.
Thomas Andrews Drake: Former senior executive of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), a decorated United States Air Force and United States Navy veteran, and a whistleblower.
Annie Machon: Former MI5 intelligence officer who left the Service at the same time as David Shayler, her partner at the time, to help him blow the whistle about alleged criminality within the intelligence agencies.
Simon Davies: A privacy advocate and academic based in London UK. He was one of the first campaigners in the field of international privacy advocacy, founding the watchdog organization Privacy International in 1990 and subsequently working in emerging areas of privacy such as electronic visual surveillance, identity systems, border security, encryption policy and biometrics.
Elizabeth Murray: Served as Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East in the National Intelligence Council before retiring after a 27-year career in the U.S. government. She is a member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
Caroline Hunt: A United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) whistleblower.
In late 2014, a group of the world’s most renowned privacy activists, whistleblowers, technologists and legal experts joined forces to work on the development of a global initiative to fight surveillance.
Led by privacy veteran Simon Davies and former MI5 intelligence officer Annie Machon, the project has developed into the Code Red initiative. Its aim is to create the next evolutionary step in the growing movement to curb excessive government power.
The project will build bridges between the technology, media, legal and policy worlds and will become a strategic hub for the many activists working in this arena. Code Red will also create a clearing house for information in the anti-surveillance movement and will support whistleblowers and sources.
For more visit: www.codered.is and http://www.actvism.org/en/interviews/nsa-skandal-code-red-warum-privatsphaere/