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.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Loki, Jan 8th, 2014 @ 12:01pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    weneedhelp (profile), Jan 8th, 2014 @ 12:05pm

    As much as he protests that he didnt know...

    C'mon now... do we really believe that? I call bullshit. Barry knew...
    I am only at Preventing 911, but this is a must read:

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    jupiterkansas (profile), Jan 8th, 2014 @ 12:10pm

    Pretty sure they'll have to wait for the next president before anyone will listen to them, if ever.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2014 @ 12:11pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2014 @ 12:19pm

    Dont you love the free democracy?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), Jan 8th, 2014 @ 12:22pm

    Re: As much as he protests that he didnt know...

    You do realize that's the link this article is about, right?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2014 @ 12:32pm

    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!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2014 @ 1:15pm

    Of course the problem 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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    wec, Jan 8th, 2014 @ 1:28pm

    If Obama started listening to the signers of the 'Open Letter' wouldn't that be an admission on his part that these were 'WHISTLEBLOWERS'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Jan 8th, 2014 @ 1:35pm

    Re: Of course the problem is...

    Why does everyone believe the NSA when they say it's about terrorism?

    What makes you think that most people believe them when they say this? I don't think they do.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2014 @ 4:29pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2014 @ 4:59pm

    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"...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    Paraquat (profile), Jan 8th, 2014 @ 5:14pm

    They need to become banksters first

    If this group of whistleblowers wants to get an audience with Obama, first they need to get jobs as Wall Street bankers. Then donate a few million dollars for his presidential library. Then they will not only get an audience with the president, they'll own him.

    Rinse and repeat with members of Congress.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    art guerrilla (profile), Jan 8th, 2014 @ 5:44pm

    Re: Re: Of course the problem is...

    but as long as the media whores are kept on message, and no one squeals or squeaks about it, it disappears into the memory hole...

    the kabuki theatre that is 'our' (sic) gummint in action, is only as deep as the stage; but its all the audience sees...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2014 @ 7:47pm

    This one is going to take a while.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    Geoffrey de Galles (profile), Jan 9th, 2014 @ 3:49am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 9th, 2014 @ 5:25am


    Or they could just have an empty chair in his stead....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Theodore McIntire, Jan 9th, 2014 @ 6:43am

    Has anyone, including Barack Obama, read page 458 of The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    longfisher (profile), Jan 9th, 2014 @ 7:24am


    Given how much a frightened America would forward the Israeli aparthied state and how much evidence exists for Israeli advanced knowledge of the attacks one must wonder if the Israelis may have influenced the NSA to keep their knowledge of the 9/11 hijacker's presence and plans secret

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Jerrymiah, Jan 10th, 2014 @ 8:27am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Hide this ad »
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Hide this ad »
Techdirt Insider Chat
Hide this ad »
Recent Stories
Hide this ad »


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.