Another Former NSA Lawyer Says He Wouldn't Have Listened To Concerns About The Agency's Surveillance Programs
from the blow-that-whistle-all-you-want,-there's-no-one-around-for-miles! dept
Frontline’s expansive report on the NSA in the wake of the Snowden leaks (United States of Secrets) has uncovered some rather amazing stuff about the agency’s mindset. The post-9/11 decision to deflect every question or concern with conjecture about how “thousands of lives” will be lost if its programs are rolled back or altered in any way continues to this day — rehashed in every government hearing and set of talking points since the leaks began.
“Live in fear” is the motto. Every question about domestic surveillance is greeted with nods to its legality and assertions that even acknowledging known facts about the NSA’s programs gives our nation’s enemies the upper hand.
This mindset snapped into place soon after the 9/11 attacks, effectively shutting down the few official routes that existed for whistleblowers. In his interview with Frontline, former NSA head counsel Vito Potenza recalled his “conversation” with a concerned employee. The matter at hand was the sacrosanct “Program,” an audacious form of warrantless wiretapping that gathered the phone calls and internet communications of American citizens.
If he came to me, someone who was not read into “The Program,” right, and not a part of what we were doing and told me that we were running amok essentially and violating the Constitution and it was in that timeframe when there was an awful lot going on and we were all worried about the next attack, there’s no doubt in my mind I would have told him, you know, go talk to your management. Don’t bother me with this. I mean, you know, the minute he said, if he did say you’re using this to violate the Constitution, I mean, I probably would have stopped the conversation at that point quite frankly. So, I mean, if that’s what he said he said, then anything after that I probably wasn’t listening to anyway.
Potenza’s words highlight the agency’s paranoia. The fear of the next attack was used to mute any Constitutional concerns. The agency was now too busy to follow the nation’s laws. This attitude has persisted and the agency has been the beneficiary of court decisions and legal loopholes that have stretched existing laws to fit the NSA’s activities.
The whistleblower Potenza blew off was Thomas Drake, someone who ran into wall after wall in his attempt to go through proper channels with his concerns
[Drake] said he “confronted” Potenza “directly in the most direct language possible” saying “that NSA was violating the Constitution.” So, Potenza “knows the truth and chose to go with ‘The Program.’ And anybody questioning ‘The Program’ was a threat.”
The NSA didn’t want to hear these concerns. Potenza states he told Drake to go to his manager. But Drake already had.
He appealed to Maureen Baginski, who was Drake’s superior and the third highest ranking official at the NSA. She balked at his concerns and told him to contact the Office of General Counsel and speak with the NSA’s lead attorney, Potenza.
All “proper channels” lead to dead ends. Potenza kicked Drake back to the same boss who sent him up the ladder to the General Counsel’s office. It’s little surprise Snowden exited not only the agency, but the country as well. There’s no “proper channel” for whistleblowers — at least not while there’s still an ongoing War on Terror.