In former senior NSA employee and whistleblower William Binney’s view, this is the “real problem.” It is occurring without a warrant and they can bring this information into court. He calls it the “planned program perjury policy right out of the Department of Justice.”
“They’re lying to the courts,” Binney explains. The government knows that they are lying when they say here is the evidence used to arrest these people. The information is also being shared with “foreign counterparts.” They’re telling “foreign counterparts” this is the evidence used to arrest people but the “counterparts” do not get to see the data because it is from NSA collection.
Essentially, this is the United States subverting not only its own justice system but justice systems around the world.
Binney served as a director of the NSA’s World Geopolitical and Military Analysis Reporting Group and was a senior NSA crypto-mathematician when he worked for the agency. He left the agency after the NSA began to collect data on Americans they should not have been collecting. The agency had also rejected a program called ThinThread, which would have enabled targeted information acquisition. ThinThread would have been employed by the NSA instead of the bulk data collection that occurs in violation of the privacy of citizens in America and around the world.
I spoke with Binney about the joint intelligence gathering relationship between private companies and government. He also took the opportunity to clarify some comments he made recently about PayPal and/or eBay’s possible involvement in NSA surveillance.
Generally, Binney explained that telecommunications companies can create collection mechanisms like the Upstream program, which has been exposed by disclosures from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. However, it requires a lot of equipment to be deployed. Businesses would have to cooperate and equipment would need to be deployed in rooms, like the secret room Mark Klein exposed in courts, which was in an AT&T facility. The NSA can use connectors to duplicate the fiber lines and then send copies for storage and analysis by the NSA.
That is a “rather expensive thing to do,” Binney added. What is cheaper is to gain the “cooperation of the companies if they have the stored data available, like for example, the telecoms have the billing data or billing contacts.” So, for example, PRISM, another program Snowden revealed, involves soliciting companies so they participate in the program.
Binney clarified his views on whether the NSA would need to collect data from PayPal or eBay.
“As far as I know those are mostly paid by credit card and so the credit card data they would get through the banking institutions. Any part of it from eBay or PayPal would be a subset of the credit card use anyway. It wouldn’t be the full of use it and the banking institutions would be the full use of it,” he stated.”
In other words, the bank can provide a “complete record” of transactions. Whatever PayPal or eBay had to offer would be redundant.
He also clarified his thoughts about how journalists had handled information from Snowden so far. He doesn’t see anything wrong with what they are doing and how they are exposing the information in stories.
“What they have been exposing should be public knowledge,” he declared. “Collecting all this information on individuals is what totalitarian states have done down through the centuries. That’s been their business.”
It is why German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose phone was tapped by the NSA, was upset. It is like what the Stasi did, what the KGB did, what the Gestapo and SS did and what Mao Zedong’s people did in China. It is a “totalitarian procedure.”
Binney argued, “If we accept this, then we’re accepting totalitarianism. We have to speak up against it.”
The fact that the NSA is intruding upon systems all over the world and violating their integrity and the trust of users, in Binney’s opinion, is a violation of the Fifth Amendment. For Americans, it means citizens no longer can guarantee they will have private thoughts. “Everything can be used against you.”
The use of metadata is a violation of the First Amendment, to Binney. It undermines the “right to free association.” And, Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s claim about the metadata not being surveillance because it doesn’t reveal a person’s identity is false.
Binney explained, “The phone number is your identity. Just do a reverse look-up and you get everything you’d want to know—your address, your name and everything.” You get “people associated with you. You get all this information.”
The NSA gets the date of the call, the duration and the location where the call was made. “That means they can know your own social network, all your day to day activities and track all your movements where you go. That’s considerable knowledge about an individual’s life.”
On “60 Minutes,” NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander claimed “the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi were in touch with an al Qaeda safe house in Yemen. The NSA did not know their calls were coming from California, as they would today.”
Binney said, based on his experience, this would not be true. Every call has a unique number to it that can tell someone where the call is coming from, like an area code.
A presidential review group released a report recommending private companies store the data instead of having the NSA collect it. Binney does not think the government or businesses should have any of this data. It all should be destroyed.
Binney said the government has tens of thousands of implants on the network, on routers, servers or actual computers. This can tell routers how to send material. They can put a code into a router so that when a particular number is seen a copy of certain data is forwarded to the NSA.
“If you control the routers, you can control how all the information in the entire network flows,” Binney declared. This is true for servers and Internet service providers as well.
He also explained that NSA never developed and implemented technology in order to have the capabilities to track activities by employees on the agency’s systems because of two groups of people: the analysts and management.
The analysts “realized that what that would be doing is monitoring everything they did and assessing what they were doing. They objected. They didn’t want to be monitored.”
Management resisted because it meant one would be “able to assess returns on all the programs around the world.” It would be possible to “lay out all the programs in the world and map [them] against the spending and the return on investment.”
It meant the agency would be “exposed to Congress for auditing,” Binney added.” Management did not want that.
Binney connected the power the information gives to the government to the indefinite detention provision in the National Defense Authorization Act passed in 2012 and signed by President Barack Obama. It gave the government the power to “declare someone a terrorist threat and have the military take them off the street and incarcerate them and keep them indefinitely. That was Special Order 48 issued by the Nazis right after the Reichstag fire in 1933.”
He soberly recalled how this order had been used to get rid of political enemies and put individuals into concentration camps. Of course, this is not happening now. However, the KGB used this tactic to put people in gulags or institutions.
Much of what is occurring happens in secret. A secret court—the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) passes “judgment on whether something is constitutional in secret. They’re creating a secret constitution. It’s a secret government.”
“This is what I have been afraid for our country and everybody in the world because this is spreading. It’s not just here now. We’re spreading this kind of procedure around the world. I mean, and we have to start speaking up or we’re going to lose our democracy.”
Finally, in his opinion, data on US citizens needs to stop being collected indiscriminately. How law enforcement uses this data needs to be addressed.
“They’re all talking about NSA analysts and to me that’s not the real threat. The real threat comes from those other people, who can come at you with guns and put you in a prison and take you off without due process.”
Photo by Rama, used under Creative Commons license