The Original NSA Whistleblower

Intelligence analyst William Binney's revelations preceded Edward Snowden's by more than decade. Why didn't anyone listen?

"Where I see it going is toward a totalitarian state," William Binney says of the National Security Agency (NSA), the place where he worked for 30 years before becoming a whistleblower and eventually quitting. "You've got the NSA doing all this collecting of material on all of its citizens-that's what the SS, the Gestapo, the Stasi, the KGB, and the NKVD did."

Binney resigned from his high-ranking post as technical leader for intelligence in 2001. In 2002, more than a decade before Edward Snowden's NSA revelations rocked the world, he and several former colleagues went to Congress and the Department of Defense, requesting that the NSA be investigated. Not only was the super-secretive agency wasting taxpayer dollars on ineffective programs, they argued, it was broadly violating constitutional guarantees to privacy and due process.

The federal government didn't just turn a blind eye to the abuses Binney and company warned against; it accused the whistleblowers of leaking state secrets. A federal investigation of Binney-including an FBI search and seizure of his home and office computers that destroyed his consulting business-exonerated him on all charges. "We are a clear example that [going through] the proper channels doesn't work," he says. It's no wonder that Snowden went to the media first, Binney says, even if (in Binney's estimation) the now-resident of Russia was wrong to leak documents not directly related to unconstitutional NSA surveillance of American citizens.

Binney, now retired, still believes that his old employer is vital to national security, but he thinks technological advances and an expansive appetite for power have unmoored it from constitutional considerations. He sat down with reason's Nick Gillespie in January to discuss the NSA's "Trailblazer" program, his experience being raided by the FBI, and how the NSA could be reformed. For video of the interview, click here, or see the embedded video at the end of this article.

reason: In 2002 you, Kirk Wiebe, and Edward Loomis asked the Department of Defense to investigate the NSA for wasting money on Trailblazer. What was Trailblazer?

William Binney: Trailblazer was the NSA's attempt to catch up with the digital age. The problem is, Trailblazer didn't do anything. As far as I know, it didn't produce anything for roughly a little over $4 billion.

reason: You were a champion of a program called ThinThread, as opposed to Trailblazer, that would allow you to focus on information you thought was obviously important.

Binney: Yes. In fact, we had that one running on three different sites, full time, 24 hours a day. In late November 2000 we had the entire problem solved.

reason: Why would the NSA say, "Yeah that's nice, but we don't want that. We're going to go with a big program that costs more money but doesn't get any results"?

Binney: Because it helps build their empire. It adds more people to the government rolls-more contractors, more contracts, more money. You get a bigger budget. You get a bigger organization.

reason: Do you have evidence that the NSA and other intelligence agencies were actually doing mass gathering of data and surveillance on Americans?

Binney: No. In fact, that was one of their major problems. They couldn't collect enough. The phone networks were much more easy to manage because they had the telecommunications companies helping them.

But the Internet was a totally different story, so they had to build that one. That's what Trailblazer was all about. They called it a Volume Velocity Variety problem. On the Internet you get Voice Over IP, video, file transfers, chatter, email, all kinds of things. So that was the "variety." "Velocity" is going the speed of light. And "volume" means there's a lot of it. But with ThinThread we looked at those as positive things. Volume means you get more data to look through to find your targets. You get more data on your targets. Velocity means, of course, you get it faster. Variety means you get more aspects. All of that's positive. That's what we leveraged and that's what we had working before 9/11.

reason: Do you think that the U.S. should have been able to stop 9/11?

Binney: Absolutely.

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  • The Late P Brooks||

    Nick Gillespie interviews Binney to find out why nobody listened.

    Something something PHONEYBALONEY JOBS!


  • OneOut||

    " I think when he took office, one of the first things he did is get a security brief from all the intelligence agencies, and they listed out all the threats in the world and the things that they're doing to oppose the threats."

    The first thing he did was seal all his own personal records.

    Snowden's TV show with Putin yesterday solidified my thoughts that the entire Snowden play was a brilliant KGB (FSB or whatever it's called now) operation from the start. He took such valuable info on our government's secret doings that they are now hamstrung. Look at Putin running circles around the West and the West is impotent to counter his moves.

    After the Soviet Union collapsed the main archivist from the KGB brought cases and cases of documents detailing KGB operations against the West for decades. We came within a hairs breath of actually having two committed Soviet spies being nominated for Cabinet level positions by Roosevelt ( unknowingly). Snowden is just the replay of the West receiving the KGBs dirty laundry except times 10 because of technology.

    I firmly think that the West's inability to counter Putin's moves are a direct result of Snowden's spying. Putin has our government by the shorthairs because he can air their dirty laundry.

  • Scarecrow Repair||

    You're looking for what doesn't exist to fulfill your preconceived notions.

    Dictators always run rings around democracies, and it only gets more so when it's something local to them and remote to the democracies.

    Nothing Putin has done required any intelligence reports. Any fool could see Obama has stretched his community organization skills to their limit. Any fool could see that neither Europe nor the US has any real stake in Ukraine, and that the US public especially is tired of overseas adventures that wasted blood and treasure.

  • OneOut||

    What is it that you think I'm looking for ?

    You seem very naive.

  • Invisible Finger||

    I would, because I think that it's better to infiltrate and infect it from the inside with character and integrity.


    What a maroon. The guy's jealous that Snowden has more brains in his ordure than Binney has in his skull.

    When people like Binney are perceived as the good guys, we're truly doomed.

  • steedamike||


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