Critic: NSA on a "very ugly path"

After 30-plus years as an official in the National Security Agency (NSA), William Binney has been speaking out about what he sees as the “very ugly path” his former employer, along with the FBI and CIA, are currently following. 

At a lunch presentation on April 29 in midtown New York, Binney didn't hold back detailing the extent of the surveillance as well as the workarounds the agencies use to gather data and apply it in prosecutions. And the practices will only get bigger, Binney said, owing to the money flowing into the departments based on lies being told to Congress and an uninformed public. 

“It's a ruse to procure larger and larger budgets,” he said.

While he's been an outspoken critic of these practices for years, driven by abhorence at the Patriot Act – passed quickly following the 9/11 attacks – and first-hand experience with the agency's dirty tactics, the release of NSA documents by Edward Snowden has given him the factual evidence to ramp up his information campaign on the extent and dangers these surveillance tactics pose.

For Binney, the irony is that the sheer amount of data being gathered renders the programs ineffective as there are too few analysts capable of sifting through the troves of electronic eavesdropping. The whole argument in favor of allowing these programs – to detect and stop terrorist activity – fails because meaningful intelligence is lost in the pile. How much? Around two-thirds of the world's population is now being monitored, he said

“That's why they couldn't stop the Boston bombing, or the Paris shootings,” Binney said. The data was there, but analysts couldn't spot it in time. While he did concede that the agencies can go back after an incident and forensically uncover vital intelligence, the terrorists are not being stopped.

And lack of oversight in Congress is emboldening federal agencies – including the NSA, FBI, CIA, and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), all of which have access to NSA databases – to ramp up their tactics. 

Binney expressed particular rage at what he termed “the dismantling of Constitutional rights,” as the agencies flat-out lie to the DoD and the courts regarding the collection of data used to go after offenders. The use of “parallel construction,” the use of normal investigative techniques to recreate the information provided by the Special Operations Division (SOD) of the DEA, undermines the basis of the Constitution, denying rights to suspects.

“They're taking away half of the Constitution in secret,” Binney said. “If they want to change the Constitution, there's a way to do that. And it's in the Constitution.”

The question for Jeff Williams, CTO at Contrast Security, sponsor of the luncheon, was, “How much privacy, security and free speech are we willing to give up for the minimal (alleged) protection offered by allowing government bulk surveillance to exist.”

What's called for, Binney said, was a focused attack on smart intelligence gathering to optimize success for analysts. Americans, he concluded, are too trusting of their government. “This country is worth saving.” 

A ruling on May 7 by a federal appeals court in New York striking down the formerly secret data collection program is not likely to stop the NSA, Williams points out. Rather, he expects that after a bit of wrangling in Congress, the NSA will be able to go on “collecting all the activity of four billion people worldwide – including Americans.” 

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