Former NSA Insiders Ask President Obama To Let Them Brief Him On Everything Wrong With The NSA

from the that-would-be-interesting dept

As pretty much everyone has been sending over, a bunch of former NSA and intelligence community insiders who later went on to become whistleblowers (many of whom were then attacked or even prosecuted for their whistleblowing) have written quite an astounding open letter to President Obama, requesting that he allow them to brief him on the problems of the NSA. The letter goes a bit overboard on the rhetoric (which actually pulls away from its important underlying message, unfortunately), but the key points are clear. From what they’ve seen, they know that not only have the NSA’s efforts violated the 4th Amendment and been ineffective, they have actually made it more difficult for the NSA to do its job properly.

What we tell you in this Memorandum is merely the tip of the iceberg. We are ready – if you are – for an honest conversation. That NSA’s bulk collection is more hindrance than help in preventing terrorist attacks should be clear by now despite the false claims and dissembling.

Much of the letter repeats things that were reported in the past, specifically in Jane Meyer’s incredible New Yorker story about Thomas Drake (who signed this letter) from nearly three years ago. It talks about THINTHREAD, the program developed by William Binney (also signed on to the letter) as a system for sorting through information without violating the 4th Amendment, or the NSA’s mandate. As was detailed both in Meyer’s article, and again in this letter, THINTHREAD, which was developed prior to 9/11 for just a few million dollars, had built in a bunch of privacy and anonymity controls, but would also ease information sharing when necessary and appropriate. However, rather than use it, the NSA director at the time, Michael Hayden, chose to go with a plan from some outside defense contractors, costing billions of dollars, which didn’t bother protecting the 4th Amendment or people’s privacy. When the folks behind THINTHREAD reported this level of waste to the Inspector General, they were investigated, leading to various bogus charges against Drake (almost all of which were eventually dropped).

In the letter, Drake also discusses how, as the NSA exec in charge of figuring out the beset technology to fight against terrorism, he tried to get THINTHREAD reinstated. He also was asked to prepare a briefing for then head of the House Intelligence Committee, Saxby Chambliss (who’s now a staunch NSA defender on the Senate Intelligence Committee) about why 9/11 happened. His initial report noted that the NSA knew all about the hijackers, but failed to share the info. He wasn’t allowed to give that report.

At a SIGINT Leadership Team meeting in February 2002, SIGINT chief Maureen Baginski directed me to lead a NSA Statement-for-the-Record effort for a closed-door hearing scheduled by Sen. Chambliss for early March to discuss what NSA knew about the 9/11 hijackers and their plotting before 9/11.

As indicated above, the highly embarrassing answer was that NSA knew a great deal, but had not shared what it knew outside of NSA.

After a couple of weeks Baginski rejected my draft team Statement for the Record report and removed me from the task. When I asked her why, she said there was a ‘data integrity problem’ (not further explained) with my draft Statement for the Record. I had come upon additional damaging revelations. For example, NSA had the content of telephone calls between AA-77 hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar in San Diego, CA, and the known al-Qaeda safe house switchboard in Yemen well before 9/11, and had not disseminated that information beyond NSA.

The letter goes on in great detail about the misleading claims by NSA defenders — which we’ve discussed in the past — that 9/11 could have been prevented if the bulk metadata collection was in use at the time.

It is unlikely that President Obama will respond to this in any manner. Over the past decade, the government worked hard to try to discredit Binner, Drake and the two other signatories, Edward Loomis and Kirk Wiebe (who both worked on THINTHREAD with Binney). Still, it’s a powerful letter highlighting, yet again, how dysfunctional the NSA and the intelligence community are, how much of what they do seems to be driven by the corporate interests of defense contractors, and how little they seem to care about privacy or the Constitution.

Filed Under: , , , , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Former NSA Insiders Ask President Obama To Let Them Brief Him On Everything Wrong With The NSA”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Loki says:

Why people outside of the intelligence communities themselves continue to pretend this is, or has been, in any way about stopping the sort of terrorism that led to 9-11 is beyond me.

This level of surveillance and espionage can be for one purpose and one purpose only: population control.

This sort of data collection is only necessary if you feel threatened by your own population (meaning you are no longer actually a free and open government) and worried about large scale resistance at some point.

They can put whatever spin they want on it, but that’s the *only* reason, period.

Anonymous Coward says:

Malala Yousafzai has probably been the only person who has spoken the truth to Obama so far.

The media and other “guests” just give him a rhetorical blowjob so to get more access.

Good luck to these guys in actually getting access. Malala telling the truth was unexpected( a sneak, stealth confrontation). With these guys, it’s expected so I doubt the NSA will let them near Obama.

Anonymous Coward says:

this shows why there is such a hoo ha over Snowden’s leak. it shows that those who are shouting the loudest now, the ones who are blaming him for leaking the various documents to the public knew in advance of the 9/11 disaster. it basically shows that they are the ones who need to be arrested, charged and put on trial for treason! had they not have been stuck so far up each others and various contractors arses, maybe, just maybe, 9/11 would not have happened! had i have lost someone due to that disaster, i think a get together with a lot of others who lost people on that day and since and have a really big meeting with a law firm! if what is being said is found to be true, those who now want others tried and found guilty, then imprisoned, are obviously doing so so as to be able to remain free themselves. in effect, what they DIDN’T DO, caused the deaths of thousands of innocent people! they should be made to pay!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Of course the problem is...

…is not about stopping terrorism. It’s about “digital totalitarianism’ to quote William Binney, NSA whistleblower.

Ultimately, it will be about behavior modification – -quelling dissent is just the tip of the iceberg and is not a side-affect, it’s part of the agenda.

Why does everyone believe the NSA when they say it’s about terrorism? They’ve said nearly nothing truthful since the start of this.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Of course the problem is...

It all stems from:
“premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents”, with several other varying, and just as vague, definitions spread around US legislation. Definitional inconsistency and vague terms like “politically motivated” are huge red flags if you want to implement preventive measures.

What needs to be observed, if you want the less intrusive preventive surveillance, is a pool of potential future threats. If the future potential threats are indistinguishable by definition from dissenters, the preventive steps force a surveillance of all dissenters.

Quelling dissent is a scarily logical next step in escalating “preventive steps against terrorism”…

Anonymous Coward says:

And some people still insist Snowden, should have tried to go through “official” whistleblowing channels. The facts exposed in this very news article about what happened to Thomas Drake, are concrete proof that trying to use “offical” channels would have been a waste of time and effort.

Ed Snowden really has pioneered the most effective way for future whistleblowers to expose corruption, wasteful spending, treason, and unconstitutional lawlessness in the federal government.

Geoffrey de Galles (profile) says:

No matter the colourful rhetoric, this is — or, at least, ought to become — an historic letter that deserves to be appended, formally, to the report recently filed by Obama’s NSA review committee. I dare to propose that, should Obama choose to entirely overlook the blast from these five whistle-blowers, then the signatories should try to arrange and film for broadcast a mock WH discussion with an actor assigned to impersonate the President and say what, as one might fairly assume on the basis of both presidential and NSA claims made in the past, a cowed, recalcitrant, and even evasive Obama would be saying in the event of any such actual discussion. In my judgement, the public needs to hear these five adversarial voices in ‘real’ debate.

Jerrymiah (profile) says:

Former NSA Insiders Ask President Obama To Let Them Brief Him On Everything Wrong With The NSA

Does anyone really think that Obama will ever listen to these people. I don’t think so. I expect that Obama and Eric the Nazi first reaction, now that this has been made public will be to have these guys arrested, judged by his “trumped up” court and put away for the rest of the lives. I rate Obama as worst than Nixon in protecting the constitution.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...