In a recent segment from Current TV‘s show “Viewpoint,” host Eliot Spitzer interviewed three National Security Agency whistleblowers: William Binney, a former technical director; Kirk Wiebe, former senior analyst; and Thomas Drake, a former senior official. Each man talked about what he saw the NSA do when they were employees. Each of these whistleblowers directly explained the threats to civil liberties posed by the lawlessness of the NSA in the past decade.
Much of what is shared in the segment was already shown, but since what the NSA did constitutes illegality and corruption that have gone unpunished, it is worth highlighting key points.
Drake recounts that shortly after 9/11 he discovered that “a legal regime—the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act”—was now being “absolutely violated by NSA in league with the White House.” FISA created a special court to provide warrants for wiretapping, but NSA was increasingly abusing its authority and was secretly and unconstitutionally eavesdropping on Americans. Drake knew if he remained silent he would be “complicit.”
“The vast capability of the NSA was increasingly being turned inside the US,” Drake says. “To surveil networks, emails, phone calls, etc.” Hundreds of millions of calls from individuals in the United States were surveilled as part of “Stellar Wind.”
“The United States of America was turned into the equivalent of a foreign nation for the purposes of dragnet electronic surveillance,” Drake adds.
When Drake pushed back, he was told that the US was living in “exigent circumstances.” But isn’t that what the FISA court was for? It allowed for authorities to engage in “hot pursuit” and then get a warrant 72 hours later. The answer to Drake was that if they went to Congress it would say “no.” Plus, the White House had approved the program. Therefore, an official asserted it was “all legal.”
Drake was eventually told, after approaching several individuals with concerns, to stop asking questions and that he was turned into an “enemy of the state”
Now, the NSA is casting a wide net and capturing gargantuan and obscene amounts of data. It is building centers for databases (e.g. Bluffdale, Utah). It is swimming in data in such a way that only complicates efforts to fight the so-called war against terrorism.
Binney details one of the real problems, which is that the FBI can make “random queries” into the NSA. FBI director Robert Mueller told the Senate Judiciary committee that in order to prevent another Fort Hood incident, the FBI puts together a database with the Defense Department so it can get all emails and future emails. In essence, the FBI and NSA have been merging.
The segment closes with this exchange:
SPITZER: You see what’s going on with the Justice Department these days. We’re prosecuting Roger Clemens for steroid use. You guys are made into enemies of the state. Nobody on Wall Street has been held accountable. Do you begin to think something is amiss somewhere?
BINNEY: Absolutely. Absolutely, yes. But the real problem I see is that the DoJ is covering up for all the crimes that this administration and the previous administration has been committing against every one of the public…
…WIEBE: We have a Congress that isn’t ensuring protections under the Fourth Amendment as well. We have a real problem on multiple fronts in government. [emphasis added]
Not only is the Justice Department engaged in the act of shielding officials and corporate executives from prosecution for crimes, but Congress is not fulfilling its role as the Legislative Branch that is supposed to check the power of the Executive Branch by engaging in oversight. It is complicit and impotent. And as these whistleblowers have been targeted, Congress has not raised much of an objection at all to this conduct by the Obama Justice Department.
The FBI raided the homes of Binney and Wiebe. The Justice Department under Obama decided not to go after Binney and Wiebe and went after Drake only. The Justice Department eventually pushed Drake to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge after the case against him collapsed. Meanwhile, the press has been largely silent as these sources, even though they provided scoops and great insight into the inner workings of lawlessness in government, are targeted for prosecution.
The annual report on 2011 from the Justice Department shows secret surveillance under FISA went up. The FISA court did not deny a request to eavesdrop or spy, according to the privacy group known as EPIC:
# of DOJ requests to the FISA court to eavesdrop on and/or physically search Americans/legal residents: 1,745
# of FISA court denials: 0
While national security letters (NSLs)—a secret subpoena that the government can use to force the disclosure of records, banking or credit information of citizens—decreased, Trevor Timm of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) points to a larger issue:
Perhaps most notably, the government’s use of Section 215 – the so-called “business records” provision of FISA – more than doubled in 2011. The DOJ filed 205 applications in 2011, up from 96 applications made in 2010. This is the same provision that Senators Wyden and Udall have warned us about: the Senators have said that when the American public finds out how the government has interpreted and is using the provision, the public will be “stunned” and “angry.” Given this, it is particularly concerning the government is relying on the provision much more frequently.
Yes, right now, the Executive Branch has secret interpretations of laws that are not being shared with members of Congress. Members of Congress could be more vocal about this issue, but, to protect their careers or status in government, they are silent, and if they challenge this conduct at all, they do it privately.
Finally, the secret surveillance — the ever-expanding surveillance state — is defended by the Obama administration in court. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is challenging the constitutionality of the FISA Amendments Act but the government has tried to block any judicial review of the surveillance law. They have opposed the ACLU as the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) moves through Congress, granting NSA even more power to collect information on US citizens. And, they have opposed the ACLU as they push Congress to reauthorize the probably illegal FISA law of which Congress refuses to conduct proper oversight.
This is because, as Jay Stanley of the ACLU writes, there is “a growing attitude among law enforcement that there ought to be a presumption that citizens’ communications be susceptible to eavesdropping.” President Obama has helped this attitude become further entrenched in the daily operations of law enforcement.
The reauthorization of the FISA law will mean the continued expansion of lawlessness between the NSA and other institutions or agencies of government. Employees will witness this and conscientiously object, but they can expect President Barack Obama to have Attorney General Eric Holder and the wider Justice Department come after them, as it has been clearly established—
We don’t prosecute people for war crimes.
We don’t prosecute people for authorizing or legalizing torture.
We don’t prosecute people who engage in lawless covert operations.
We don’t prosecute people for warrantless wiretapping.
We don’t prosecute people for engaging in corporate crimes, even ones that collapse the US economy.
We DO prosecute people who blow the whistle on people who have committed any of the above.