Those who push back the hardest against the Snowden compromises and the ongoing debate over suspicionless mass surveillance work for the intelligence community.
It is understandable. Those who work in SIGINT are subjected to strict minimization procedures. Minimization refers to regulations and rules which are intended to protect the data of American citizens.
It has long been traditional in NSA, since the Church Hearings, and the Pike Hearings, in 1976, that surveillance of American citizens is off limits. This is a core organizational belief that has been internalized into the DNA of the organizational culture of NSA.
It is a default reflex for NSA employees. Thou shalt not spy on Americans. They are retrained on this, they sign agreements on it, it is part of their annual recertification, and recertification is mandatory in most compartments.
Some employees confuse this, and they consider it proof that NSA does not engage in suspicionless mass surveillance of American citizens. The mistake that they make is assuming that this core belief is intact throughout the agency, that it is not violated by certain programs.
This belief is only valid in those compartments where employees engage in foreign intelligence surveillance. You know. What they are supposed to be doing. By statute. Their real jobs. Nobody has complaints about that. We are talking about something else.
This is one reason why what was then called "The Program" was so highly classified. It was illegal, and it was contrary to the very DNA of the NSA. It was an inversion of the values inculcated in NSA employees.
When you watch the Frontline interviews that I keep harping about, you realize that most of the perpetrators clearly understood that the Program was illegal.
David Addington, staff lawyer to the office of the vice president, who at that time was Dick Cheney, was the conspirator who pressured former DIRNSA, former DCI, Michael Hayden. I deliberately call Addington a conspirator, because I believe that he committed high crimes against the Constitution. Hayden talks about this phone call in his Frontline interview.
Addington told Hayden straight up, "the Acting Attorney General is refusing to endorse this program, so we will have to go dark, unless you reauthorize it." The dispute was over an interpretation of the president's Article II powers under the Constitution.
Hayden had authorized the Program previously, it was up for renewal, when our current Director of the FBI, Director Jim Comey, could not swallow his reservations and he declined to endorse it. Comey was then an Assistant Attorney General at DOJ, and he was temporarily acting as the Attorney General. Comey was not initially read into the compartment that protected the Program. He suspected that it was illegal, and after he was briefed, he realized that he was right. He was subsequently steamrolled. Others say "persuaded." I say steamrolled. He obviously played ball. He is now Director of the FBI. Director Comey, who has a bizarre reputation for integrity, is part of our national nightmare.
Hayden said that he would reauthorize the Program, accepting the radical reinterpretation of the president's Article II powers under the Constitution, even though the Acting Attorney General refused to endorse it, and that was that. Hayden blamed his three staff lawyers, who were sensational lawyers, according to him, and they all three independently concluded that the Program was legal and that Hayden was within his authority to reauthorize it. That was enough for Hayden to claim that he had legal cover to reauthorize an unconstitutional violation of the rights of American citizens, even when the Acting Attorney General refused to do so.
This was an outright violation of the Constitution, and Hayden knew it. Hayden knew that this decision would come back to haunt him, and it has, but not nearly enough. If I have anything to say about this, Hayden will be testifying under oath before a Joint Special Committee on Mass Surveillance, and he will be read his rights before he opens his mouth. He should be prosecuted, along with Keith Alexander, and James Clapper.
Hayden actually characterized the domestic mass surveillance as "warrantless" surveillance, but not "unwarranted."
Hayden knew exactly what he had done. Like any smart spook, he got out in front of the decision, and he put his spin on it. As a consequence, it has not received the scrutiny from Congress that it deserves. The Gang of Eight apparently felt like it did not merit closer scrutiny, so they gave him a pass.
All of this is detailed in those Frontline interviews. No honest viewer can watch them and deny that illegal activities were taking place, and are still taking place.
This is why I tell defenders of NSA that they are unequipped to have an informed conversation with me. Telling me what your bosses told you in classified briefings to keep you in line carries no weight with me. Not when Hayden confesses that he broke the law, and NSA apologists cannot be bothered to even scan the transcript.
At a certain point, all of this has to become so uncomfortable for conscientious members of the intelligence community that they have no option but to dismiss me and people like me as insane.
The alternative would entail them admitting that something illegal happened, and that something illegal is still happening.
The legal justifications for these programs, specifically the domestic mass surveillance, authorized under Patriot Act Section 215, FISA Amendments Act 702, and Executive Order 12333, are weak and tortured. Compounding the insult, the FISC is not a court, despite its name. If it were truly a "foreign intelligence court," it would address solely foreign intelligence matters before it, and it would not authorize domestic mass surveillance. Real courts feature adversarial representation. The FISC meets in secret, the DOJ lawyers that appear before it do so secretly, and its decisions and orders are classified. The FISC is a Star Chamber.
There are a bunch of people who have broken the law, under any interpretation.
No one wants to address this, because it would reach deep and far, and once you let that pony out of the stable, there is no way to determine how far and how hard that the pony will run, and the consequences could be dire for distinguished people in particular agencies, and folks who have retired. Some of them could be brought up on criminal charges.
One problem is that these programs, like any government programs, are rarely shut down when they have served their purpose. The program then known as "The Program" itself was supposed to be temporary, an exigent fix for the fear that gripped the country after 9-11.
Now the intelligence community is addicted to the take, they like what they can do with this data, they are still learning how to use it and exploit it, and there are shops in the IC that are doing some truly sobering things with it. NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake pulls no punches, describing the US government as a "criminal enterprise subverting the Constitution of the United States," an "anathema form of government."
Congress keeps cutting NSA billion dollar checks to fund what are now many programs, and NSA has metastasized a flourishing ecosystem of black projects worldwide in the form of FVEY. Black budgets, no oversight. Nobody babysits FVEY. It is a transnational entity operating in secrecy, under no independent oversight.
The original NSA dissidents, Binney, Wiebe, Drake, Loomis, Roarke, et al, they originally tried to report a specific slice of the original Program in the form of government waste, fraud and abuse, because some aspects of these programs did not even work, and the government was buried in big data that it could not handle. They did not even raise the Constitutional violations, at least not at first.
In response FBI HRT pulled dynamic entries on their homes, menaced their children at gunpoint, and the DOJ destroyed them financially. None of these early NSA dissidents were ever prosecuted successfully. Drake pled guilty to wrongful use of a government computer. A misdemeanor. He did it to end the malicious prosecution that bankrupted him and demolished his family. Our government waged war on these American patriots, and nobody has been held accountable for it. Our government can do this to any one of us.
A leaker from within DOJ made sure that Binney received an illicit copy of a draft indictment, because it was evidence of malicious prosecution. Binney then called Drake on his landline in the clear, knowing that the FBI was recording from the van in front of his house, and he told him that he was going to sue the government and that he was going to give the draft indictment to the judge and demand that charges be brought.
Two weeks later, Binney received notice that all charges were dropped.
This is all documented fact. Binney talks about this in his many interviews available on YouTube. The government does not want you to know about it, because then you might wonder why so many otherwise reputable people are pitching a fit over suspicionless mass surveillance.
This is why Snowden matters. He exfiltrated a couple hundred thousand documents, and the government increasingly understands exactly which ones. There is no way for the government to marginalize Snowden, not when he can demonstrate that the government is lying by citing its own documents.
The NSA cheerleaders try to malign Snowden, because they get their toast buttered by the intelligence community, and they do not want to disrupt their gravy train. It is an automatic reflex by now, shooting the messenger.
When you cannot argue the facts because the facts are not in your favor, you fall back to regulations and rules. When those are insufficient to contain the blowback, you shoot the messenger. That is what we are seeing with the government response to the Snowden compromises. Character assassination.
For many people, at a fundamental level, this is all about money. Their pensions. Their monthly salary. Their clearances. The suits in these agencies employ fear to keep their employees in line. They spoon-feed them classified briefings reinforcing that "everything is fine, everything is legal, just continue doing your jobs." They believe that everything will just blow over, and America will go back to sleep. And they would be correct. Except that Greenwald has released like ten percent, at most, of the known Snowden documents in his archive. And Greenwald keeps publishing new ones every couple of weeks.
If there are ever hearings, Congressional hearings, if there is ever a Joint Special Committee on Mass Surveillance convened, the impact will be seismic.
For those of you who wonder why I am so pissed off about this, it is because of Director Hoover. He could not be fired by successive presidential administrations because he had dirt on everybody.
The potential abuses of these programs could mean the death of America as we know it.
So that is why I am crazy.
Everybody clear now?
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