Jesselyn Radack (left) and Thomas Drake (right) at Bundestag hearing on NSA surveillance

National Security Agency whistleblowers William Binney and Thomas Drake testified before a German parliamentary committee as part of an inquiry into NSA surveillance in Germany.

According to Deutsche Welle, Binney argued that the NSA had abandoned nearly all rule of law principles. It now has a “totalitarian mentality” and wants “total information control.”

He called NSA the “greatest threat” to America since the Civil War.

The committee asked him about a story that broke that day from Panorama on how NSA targets individuals who merely search for “privacy-enhancing software tools.” The agency tracks the IP address of the person and especially spies on the Tor network, which democracy activists are known to use to bypass authoritarian internet controls.

The NSA uses XKeyscore, a program that was first revealed when disclosures from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden began in June 2013. It is a “collection and analysis tool” used to exploit computer networks. It can be used to gather data on “nearly everything a user does on the internet.”

It was estimated by Binney that tens of thousands of Tor users in Germany are being targeted.

“We need a moral standard” for what kind of data governments are going to collect on people, Binney suggested.

Binney and Drake are known for pushing NSA to adopt a program called ThinThread, which would have made it possible to encrypt data from US citizens. It would have enabled a targeted approach for protecting privacy that would have prevented law enforcement from accessing it. But, when the NSA incorporated some facets of this program into their surveillance, they went with bulk acquisition of data instead and got rid of the privacy protections that had been built into ThinThread.

As reported by information activist Diani Barreto, Binney said he came to BND, German’s intelligence agency, in 1985 to share the ThinThread program privacy protections and source code for them. Binney also told the committee that NSA doesn’t throw any data away.

The agency collects content, he asserted, which is why the NSA needs the massive data center in Bluffdale, Utah.

Binney testified for over five hours before going into a classified session with the committee.

Drake appeared with Government Accountability Project attorney, Jesselyn Radack. He was expected to testify about three hours until midnight in Germany.

He commended the committee for engaging in an investigation. He said the German public has a right to know what the BND is doing. “Have they become an NSA worm?”

“I never imagined that the US would use the Stasi playbook,” Drake stated. He added that he would politely hold up a mirror. The experiment in subverting the US constitution was “headed overseas.” The 9/11 attacks were comparable to the burning of the Reichstag.

There were complaints from people trying to attend the hearing. The committee denied the public access. There was no live stream, even though Binney and Drake granted the committee permission to broadcast their testimony.

Later in the hearing, as Drake was testifying, the lights kept going on and off.

While a US congressional delegation attended the hearing and heard Binney and Drake testify, the testimony from the two NSA whistleblowers was remarkable because no committee in Congress has asked either of them to come and testify about NSA surveillance since disclosures Snowden first began to be published.

Finally, the past weeks have seen renewed interest in the NSA in Germany. Der Spiegel reported on June 18 that documents show close cooperation between the NSA and the BND. The BND apparently played a key role in working with the NSA’s Special Source Operations to tap a fiber-optic cable. The two agencies then conspired together to cover up evidence that personnel had been involved in such spying activity.

“Heavyweight constitutional law experts Hans-Jürgen Papier, Wolfgang Hoffmann-Riem and Matthias Bäcker,” according to Der Spiegel, “stated that the BND is potentially violating the German constitution by working with data received from the NSA. Furthermore, they argued that basic constitutional rights such as the privacy of correspondence, post and telecommunications apply to Germans abroad and to foreigners in Germany. That would mean that surveillance performed by the BND and NSA is constitutionally unacceptable.”

For a live blog of the hearing (in German), go here.

*Photo from Jesselyn Radack