NSA whistleblower: ‘Mass surveillance makes intelligence community less efficient’
William Binney, who worked for the NSA for over 30 years as a cryptanalyst-mathematician but resigned in 2001 as a whistleblower, explained why the notion that mass surveillance is necessary in order to combat terrorism is false.
RT: You have first hand knowledge on how the NSA works, is this just the tip of the iceberg?
William Binney: Well, in terms of the number of companies in the amount of data, yes that’s pretty much the case. It’s a direct violation of the constitution, that’s why I left the NSA in 2001. They started to do this, and that’s why I left. I could not stay there and be a party to the violation of my constitution, plus it was in violation of any number of laws at the time.
RT:President Obama has said that the invasion of privacy is done in the name of security, is he right about that? Does mass surveillance help security?
WB: No, it doesn’t. In fact it adds more of a problem because what that means, quite simply, is that if you go into a larger database, you get more data back no matter what the query is. It’s like making a query with Google. If you go in with a Google query you can get tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands or even a million returns. Well, there’s no way you can go through that, all of that, to see what you’re really interested in. So what that does is make them less proficient at doing their jobs.
RT:And what about the cost of this to the taxpayer?
WB: Well all of that is being borne by the taxpayer. We had proposed to them a number of years ago, about 2004, that we design a system and build it for them for about $250 thousand, where it would select only the relevant data that they wanted to look at, out of the entire worldwide system. And we did it based on a simple two-degree principle - that is, if you had a terrorist calling somebody in the United States that was one degree, and that person in the US calling others in the US was the second degree. So, in other words what you would’ve been looking at was being able to find the cells inside the country, as well as being able to monitor terrorists worldwide. You would get it all, the rest of it was just extra information.
RT: Do you think that the impact of 9-11 and the war on terror is so great that Americans are content to allow security to trample over anything else, even personal privacy?
WB: I think, initially, it began that way. People were trusting their government, I think that’s basically the case. Congress and the administration at the time was being bamboozled by the intelligence community, saying that you have to collect all this data to find the bad guys, and if we don’t do that you won’t be able to achieve that, which is absolutely false.
RT:Now there have been ongoing controversies surrounding the US spying on its citizens, is anything likely to make the government rein in its security services now?
WB: It’s going to be very difficult, because they have so much invested in doing what they’re doing. It costs a lot of money to do this, and their budgets have been almost tripled, I think, since 9-11, so that kind of spending is hard to waste. So what they’re really doing is saying we have to use what we have, which is the problem with power -- when you give power to an organization or to people they tend to use it. And assembling this kind of information about all the citizens in the United States, or anybody else for that matter, gives you power against them, you have leverage, and you can use that power against them. Or you can use other agencies of the US like the IRS to investigate people, and use your knowledge about people in the country to use the IRS to target them. For example, if they wanted to know who was in the Tea Party, they already have that from the telephone and email networks. The communities built from that data will tell them who’s participating in the Tea Party, the central figures, and who are not central to the Tea Party, and then from that if they are asking for tax exempt status, you can send the IRS after them to harass them. That’s what's possible, that’s what this power of knowledge does, it gives them that power to do that.
RT:In your experience with the NSA, is there a culture of surveillance which is prevailing there?
WB: No, I’m pretty sure there are a lot of people who are upset, at least from the ones who are retired. I’m getting feedback from them that they’re really upset at what NSA has been doing. And, of course, just the disclosure of the FISA warrants and this PRISM program says there are others who are working in government and in NSA who are upset by what they’re doing, otherwise they wouldn’t have been leaked.
RT:If this was practice, in both George W Bush’s administration and now apparently president Obama's, it suggests both seem to agree on this surveillance of its citizens, what does this mean for the future, where is this all going?
WB: Well, what that simply means is that we have to start
electing people who are smart enough to realize when they’re
being bamboozled by the intelligence community or anybody else,
we can’t just take people and elect them who accept what they’re
being told by departments of government. You have to have people
who do real oversight, from not only the courts -- because after
all, the courts, the judge that signed the orders for Verizon, he
didn’t know any more than the government told him. So, he was
totally dependent on what the government was telling him to
justify their warrant, or their order. And that’s not acceptable.