The documentary ‘A Good American’ explain how 9/11 could have been prevented and how useful informations against terror attacks could have been obtained without spying on entire populations
Republica.it, 11 febbraio 2017
Full text in English Below the Fold
He is considered one of the best analysts in the history of the National Security Agency (NSA), “the largest, most expensive and most technologically sophisticated spy organization the world has ever known,” as described by The New Yorker. Before Edward Snowden, the US crypto-mathematician Bill Binney blew the whistle on NSA’s mass surveillance activities, and was one of those who inspired Snowden to take the enormous risk of exposing it.
In Oliver Stone’s movie Snowden, Binney is the maverick genius played by Nicolas Cage. But now a new documentary film tells his intriguing story. Entitled A Good American (Agoodamerican.org), it is a brilliant film crafted with civic passion by Friedrich Moser. It will be arriving in Italian cinemas at the end of February and it is a film destined to anger people, as it tells how 9/11 could have been prevented and how information important for preventing terror attacks could have been obtained effectively without spying on entire populations had Binney and other whistleblowers been able to prevail upon the military leaders of the NSA. La Repubblica talked to Bill Binney.
You’ve spent a lifetime in the NSA, how did it all start?
“It all started because I was trying to get out of being in a rifle company in the Army, I tell the story in the movie why I volunteered for the service to get a chance of having a different occupation other than a rifleman, because riflemen kill people and I didn’t want to do that. I got into intelligence, I had the aptitude, a maths background, logic and things like that, and they said you are a good candidate for that, why don’t you go into that area? So that was what I did: I went into ‘NSA CSS’, which is the military branch of the NSA, and CSS is ‘Combined Security Services’, which means the Signal intelligence components of the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the Marines. It was really mentally challenging: something I liked doing, plus of course I thought I was doing something that was worthwhile, working to make sure we knew exactly what the Soviets were doing, what they were planning”.
When did you join them?
“I was in the NSA military division from June of 1965 to June 1969, and I came back five-six months later, in April or March 1970, to be a civilian in the NSA and I stayed there for 32 years”.
Thirty-six years: a lifetime inside the NSA. Was it important to help US leaders make better decisions based on reliable information?
“If you don’t do that, what happens is you end up in wars like Vietnam and the Gulf of Tonkin affair, which didn’t really happen: they used that and bad intelligence to start the (Vietnam) war and many people were killed because of that. We had the other case of Iraq, where they ended up with the weapons of mass destruction that weren’t there and that was the justification for going to war and a lot of people died. So, my whole idea was trying to stop people making bad mistakes and killing people”.
When did you first start having concerns about NSA activities?
“There were two types of activities that started concerning me around 1988. I started being concerned about how they were spending money, how jobs were performed internally in the NSA and how they actually tried to solve problems. Money was milled around between programs and given to different contractors to ensure they would stay in businesses and so on. That was a kind of corruption that was concerning to me, but so long as I could get the things I wanted to get done, I was still making progress, until 1999 when [general Michael] Hayden came in. When he came in, he kind of took everything and said nobody else can have any ideas to try to do anything different. That fundamentally shut everything down and very shortly after that, after 9/11, the second week of October, NSA started taking the data of US citizens, so everything they were doing was being collected. For me it was the last straw: I couldn’t participate in it and couldn’t be associated with that”.
You invented a system called “ThinThread” to detect terrorist and criminal networks, without spying on entire populations. Was your system ready before 9/11?
“ThinThread was the programme that Thomas Drake, I and our team – there were six of us on the ThinThread team- designed to be able to look into massive amounts of data and only pull out things that were relevant to spot individuals engaged in criminal activities, like terrorism or drug smuggling or money laundering. That was a very selected, targeted and focused programme that only put out relevant data, so if you were involved [in any network of people doing criminal activities] your data would be taken in, and the other thing we did was to put all metadata into it, but it was encrypted, so we couldn’t tell who it was, yet you could still see the networks and any time in the future you found that a guy was a bad guy, you could still go back and see his [social] connections before that. Thinthread essentially granted privacy to everyone in the world: no one in the NSA or the FBI could look into the databases and see who they were looking at. That was the idea and that was one of the first things Michael Hayden’s NSA got rid of”
Was your programme, Thinthread, ready for 9/11?
“Yes, actually it was ready in November 2000 and we were proposing to deploy it to 18 sites, that were producing information on terrorism. Most of the ThinThread programme was software, it wasn’t hardware, so what we could do was electronically download software to a number of sites very quickly like in a day, and get it set up to run. At that time it cost nine and a half million to do it, that was all. Before 9/11, as early as January 2001, we could have started monitoring all those people: they couldn’t have done anything this system wouldn’t have picked up”.
Your system was cancelled by the NSA, which favoured a multi-billion dollar system called “Trailblaizer” How do you know that your programme could have worked to prevent 9/11? Did you test it?
“The reason I know that for a fact is that Tom Drake took the software we had for ThinThread, basically after the NSA cancelled our programme, and ran it against the entire NSA database in February 2002. We found that all the data about the attack was in there, where they were going, who they were connecting with, actually even the date of the attack: 9/11. So it was all in the NSA database, they just didn’t know they had it there. That’s the whole point”.
You have declared that after 9/11 you heard the high echelons of the NSA saying: we can milk this cow for the next 15 years. What did they mean?
“They meant: we can keep the money flowing for the next 15 years to keep programs running. Originally, I had a vision statement for the contractors working for the NSA: “aim low and miss “, because they always failed and reprogrammed, but that milking key was the real issue and I came up with a new vision statement for them: “keep the problem going, so the money keeps flowing”. That’s the whole point: never want to solve the problem, because if you solve the problem, you no longer have the problem to get the money”.
After 9/11 the NSA hijacked your system, stripped away the privacy measures, and used it to spy on entire populations. Which NSA programme did ThinThread enable?
“The first thing they did was the “Stellar Wind” [programme ], which was about domestic spying, and that is exactly what they did: they removed three features [from ThinThread] and one was the privacy protection. Instead of taking relevant data or data highly likely to be relevant, they took in everything, and then they extended surveillance to the entire planet”.
You filed a complaint against the NSA. The first time you met your lawyer, Jesselyn Radack, you wrote her: “If something happens to me, I did not commit suicide”. Why did you fear for your life?
“I was filing a complaint against the US government because it was basically violating the Constitution of the United States, which is what I call treason against the founding principles of our country. The people involved in this were: the director of the CIA, the director of the NSA, the White House, as well as members of the Congressional Committee, the House Committee, and members of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the FBI and the Department of Justice. These are all leading members of the United States government, people fucking with them don’t really last that long. I wanted my lawyer to know I was in this fight with everybody, if anything happens, I didn’t do it. Later on we experienced the FBI attacking us, the Department of Justice fabricating evidence against us and trying to use the Espionage Act against us to put us in jail for 35 years. We caught them and we threatened them with malicious prosecution and said: OK, let’s go to court, and so they dropped the whole hot potato. That is the only reason we are not in jail”.
When you saw Edward Snowden exposing the NSA mass surveillance activities, did you fear for his life? Did you fear that he could have been renditioned by the CIA?
“Sure, the only difference is that being in Moscow, I think the FSB might be protecting him from that kind of thing, that is the only reason I think they can’t get him, but if he came out they would go after him in a second”.
Do you think the Russians are interested in having him as a symbol or rather for his intelligence?
“I think it’s mostly for the visible symbol that he represents: sticking his thumb in the eye of the United States”.
Do you think Snowden will have to watch his back for the rest of his life?
“I think so, yes, until the government begins to realise they need to stop violating the Constitution. They have to clean this up and once they do that, they might realise that people like Snowden and [Julian ] Assange and others are really trying to expose the criminality of the government which has been going on for over a decade now. Until we clean our barracks, he is going to need to watch his back” .
We’ve seen how the NSA surveillance has failed to prevent terror attacks in the last sixteen years. Do you think it’s only a matter of time before the NSA is able to do that effectively, or do you think they won’t improve their capabilities at all?
“I think they are doomed to fail, because they are locked into the concept that they have to collect everything, and that just makes it impossible. They are very good at collecting data, but they haven’t made any improvements at all in trying to figure out what they have in the data they’ve collected. That’s why they can’t see threats in advance, they can’t alert on threats and they can’t stop attacks. I don’t see that changing, not until we put people in jail, because they have violated laws and the Constitution, as well as the Constitution and laws in Europe and around the world. Until we start putting people in jail to make sure they don’t do this again, and start cleaning up what is going on, I don’t see this changing”.
You declared that not even the KGB and the Stasi have the surveillance capabilities and powers that the NSA has. How do you reply to those who say that this is an exaggeration?
“It’s pretty simple: if you look at ‘Treasure Map’, ‘Muscular’ and other programs the NSA is running, you can clearly see that they have tap points all around the world and tens of thousands of implants, and switches and servers around the network: the objective of the “Treasure Map” programme is to know where every device is in the world every minute of every day. Now, I don’t know that the Russians have anywhere near the amount of money necessary to be able to do that, they certainly don’t have a GDP that can support that kind of activity, but here in the United States we do. We in the United States have spent 1 trillion dollars since 9/11 on intelligence, that’s almost an entire year of GDP for Russia. They just don’t have the money to do it, we do, so it’s obvious we can do it, and they can’t”.
Not even China.
“No, not even China. They don’t even have the access either. Access means points in the network where they have taps to collect all the data or implants to selectively pull data out”.
Are you satisfied with the changes introduced by the Obama Administration after Edward Snowden?
“No, they actually did very little to nothing”.
Are you scared about Donald Trump having the NSA capabilities and powers in his hands?
“I look at it in this way: he is doing exactly as he said he would do in the campaign. During the campaign he said he would abide by the Constitution of the United States, now if he does that, he has to stop these programs, because they are unconstitutional, obviously. On the other hand, if he adopts this process, he is going to have the same powers as Obama had. That kind of power should not exist in any kind of government, because it really creates a totalitarian state. It’s like Stasi on super-steroids; instead of having folders with papers on everybody, they have everything that you do stored electronically, so it is a much more complete, up-to-date and mineable set of information and they can manipulate it, and do anything they want to you. That is the problem with it: no government should have it”.
So the problem is not only the collection, but also the manipulation of data.
“Yes. Once you have info stored, you can change it and do anything that you want”.
What if anything can Donald Trump do that George W. Bush and Barack Obama did not do?
“He can do the same things they did”.
Looking back, would you still put your talents at the service of the NSA? Was it worth it?
“I think it was worth it until the end of the ’80s, early 1990s things got bad, but until then I think everything I did was worthwhile, and certainly helped prevent mistakes being made”.
Would you advise young people to put their talents at the service of the NSA?
“I am an advocate of infiltration: joining the ranks of those working and coming out through the ranks of the administration of that agency, whatever the agency may be: the CIA, the FBI, whatever. As long as you preserve your character and integrity, you do the right thing, and that is what we need: people doing the right thing. It’s the only way to change things, in the end. The other way is to come from the outside and put them in jail”.
ROBERT STEELE: I consider William Binney to be both a patriot who has fulfilled his sworn oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies domestic and foreign (as opposed to Mike Hayden, who violated the Constitution at both NSA and CIA), and the top professional to whom Donald Trump should turn when he gets around to dismantling NSA and putting the 20% worth saving into a new Directorate for Signals Intelligence (DS) in the expanded CIA.