In a roundtable discussion, a trio of former National Security Agency whistle-blowers — Thomas Drake, William Binney and J. Kirk Wiebe — tell USA TODAY that Edward Snowden succeeded where they failed.
Q: Did Edward Snowden do the right thing in going public?
William Binney: We tried to stay for the better part of seven years inside the government trying to get the government to recognize the unconstitutional, illegal activity that they were doing and openly admit that and devise certain ways that would be constitutionally and legally acceptable to achieve the ends they were really after. And that just failed totally because no one in Congress or — we couldn’t get anybody in the courts, and certainly the Department of Justice and inspector general’s office didn’t pay any attention to it. And all of the efforts we made just produced no change whatsoever. All it did was continue to get worse and expand.
Q: So Snowden did the right thing?
Binney: Yes, I think he did.
Q: You three wouldn’t criticize him for going public from the start?
J. Kirk Wiebe: Correct.
Binney: In fact, I think he saw and read about what our experience was, and that was part of his decision-making.
Wiebe: We failed, yes.
Jesselyn Radack: Not only did they go through multiple and all the proper internal channels and they failed, but more than that, it was turned against them. … The inspector general was the one who gave their names to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution under the Espionage Act. And they were all targets of a federal criminal investigation, and Tom ended up being prosecuted — and it was for blowing the whistle.
Binney: [T]he NSA [has become] … a processing service for the FBI to use to interrogate information directly. … The implications are that everybody’s privacy is violated, and it can retroactively analyze the activity of anybody in the country back almost 12 years.
Now, the other point that is important about that is the serial number of the order: 13-dash-80. That means it’s the 80th order of the court in 2013. … Those orders are issued every quarter, and this is the second quarter, so you have to divide 80 by two and you get 40.
If you make the assumption that all those orders have to deal with companies and the turnover of material by those companies to the government, then there are at least 40 companies involved in that transfer of information. However, if Verizon, which is Order No. 80, and the first quarter got order No. 1 — then there can be as many as 79 companies involved.
So somewhere between 40 and 79 is the number of companies, Internet and telecom companies, that are participating in this data transfer in the NSA.
A transcript and videos of the complete discussion can be found here.