On Friday [April 20th] Democracy Now! broadcast a special hour-long episode focusing on the growth of domestic surveillance in America. They spoke with National Security Agency whistleblower, William Binney, the key source for James Bamford’s recent exposé in Wired Magazine about how the NSA is quietly building a huge spy centre in Bluffdale, Utah. You can read more on this in an earlier post.
Binney served in the NSA for over 30 years working on intelligence gathering systems, but then quit his job on 31st October 2001, in the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks when, as he puts it “all the wraps came off for NSA” and the agency began its warrantless-wiretapping of citizens. Concerned to draw attention to vast data-mining programmes that he believed could “create an Orwellian state”, and in particular one programme codenamed Stellar Wind, which he had helped to develop, he decided to become a whistleblower. His home was then raided by FBI agents on 26th July 2007, whilst on the same day, the homes of Diane Roark, Kirk Wiebe and Ed Loomis were also subjected to FBI raids, ostensibly to uncover who had leaked information to the New York Times.
According to Binney:
“Well, that was the pretext, the leak on the—to give the New York Times thing. The real thing—what they were really doing was retribution and intimidation so we didn’t go to the Judiciary Committee in the Senate and tell them, “Well, here’s what Gonzales didn’t tell you, OK.” That was what it was really all about.”
And what was it that the then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was keeping the lid on?
“Well, it was about—it was about Stellar Wind and all of the domestic spying.”
Binney believes that the intelligence service now hold copies of almost all of the emails passing through the US. Asked if there has been any qualitative change since the Obama administration came in versus what the Bush administration was practicing, Binney says:
Actually, I think the surveillance has increased. In fact, I would suggest that they’ve assembled on the order of 20 trillion transactions about U.S. citizens with other U.S. citizens. […]
[But] The point is, the data that’s being assembled is about everybody. And from that data, then they can target anyone they want.
In the same roundtable interview, Democracy Now! also spoke with Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Laura Poitras, who explained how she is now repeatedly detained and questioned by federal agents whenever she enters the United States, and to Jacob Appelbaum, a computer security researcher who has also faced a stream of interrogations and electronic surveillance since he volunteered with the whistleblowing website, wikileaks.
Click here to watch video of the interview and to read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.
In the second part of the same interview, broadcast on Monday April 23rd, Binney talks about how John Poindexter’s Total Information Awareness programme was a way “to test the waters in Congress to see how they would be receptive to something they were already doing”, and gives further details regarding the case made against fellow NSA whistleblower Tom Drake.
He is also asked his thoughts on the approval that has been granted for law enforcement agencies to use surveillance drones inside the United States. Binney says:
Well, that’s simply another step in the assembly of information. This is the visual part of the electronic information they’re collecting about people. So here’s your visual part. I mean, you could collect on phone—the cell phones as you move around, and then you can watch them now with a drone.
On the same broadcast, Jacob Appelbaum explains some of the ways one may now be able to circumvent this tightening state surveillance apparatus, such as setting up email accounts on Riseup rather than gmail or yahoo, and using browsers that can be downloaded free from the torproject. This actually sounds very promising to me, although not being a technical wiz, I confess that as yet I’m still linked up via the usual proprietary software.
I’ll leave final thoughts with Binney again, here speaking about the role of elected representatives, and their responsibility to uphold the rule of law:
Well, yeah, more importantly, it’s a violation of the constitutional rights of every American citizen. And that’s a violation that they took an oath to defend against.
Click here to watch the video and read a full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.