Bill Binney is widely considered the ‘original NSA whistleblower’. As a mathematician who had risen to the post of National Security Agency Global Technical Director, Binney was at the forefront of the creation of a metadata analysis and surveillance program known as ThinThread, which aimed at monitoring terror-prone suspects while maintaining Constitutional protections for the vast majority of American citizens.
But the ThinThread program, which had been thoroughly tested and proven effective, was suddenly and inexplicably scrapped in August of 2001, mere weeks before the 9/11 attacks. In its place, the NSA employed Trailblazer, the brainchild surveillance system of a private company, SAIC. As we now know, Trailblazer marked the amplification of the mass data collection of all American citizens’ electronic communications, a practice that many consider un-Constitutional in the extreme. Binney is one of the most prominent critics of Trailblazer’s privacy and civil rights violations, but in the days after September 11th, he had even greater concerns about its ineffectiveness in preventing terror attacks.
It was inexplicable to Binney, based on the systems he had spearheaded and become intimately familiar with, that the agency could have missed signs that would have prevented the attacks on the Twin Towers. So, despite then-NSA Director Michael Hayden’s order that employees stay home on both September 11th and 12th, Binney headed into the office disguised as a janitor – no joke – to see if he could figure out how the NSA dropped the ball, missing crucial hints that could have thwarted the 9/11 attacks.
Binney disclosed in a documentary entitled ‘A Good American’ that, as he scoured his computer for information, he was told explicitly not to speak publicly about any flaws in the Trailblazer surveillance system that may have contributed to the attacks occurring.
“While I was in there trying to look at the material on my computer,” Binney said, “the president of the contracting group that I had working on ThinThread came over to me and said he’d just been in a contractor meeting” with a former top SAIC manager who’d returned to the NSA to work on Trailblazer. Those contractors had been advised not to criticize firms like SAIC for failing precisely what their job putatively entailed — preventing terror strikes like 9/11.
“Do not embarrass large companies,” Binney claims the SAIC manager told a contractor. “You do your part, you’ll get your share, there’s plenty for everybody.” In short: keep quiet, get paid.’ (Free Thought Project)
The massive scale and indiscriminate nature of the Trailblazer domestic surveillance program, in Binney’s view, caused the NSA to overlook information on their servers which may have stymied the 9/11 attacks.
‘As Salon put it, “The NSA’s clunky systems not only didn’t prevent the attack, as [Binney’s colleage Thomas] Drake’s test of ThinThread suggests Binney’s program might have, but it couldn’t identify relevant data about the attack in NSA’s possession even after the attack.”’
The exposure of these revelations helped answer the countless Americans who had been rhetorically asking how 9/11 could have possibly happened in light of our supposedly stringent anti-terrorism measures. But this public disclosure also branded Binney as ‘the original NSA whistleblower’, bringing with it stigma and resentment inherent to such a label. Binney would eventually leave the NSA in 2001, incredulous about the further expansion of warrant-less surveillance programs which monitor vast segments of the American populace.
But before he quit, he attempted to bring the ethical and legal issues of such surveillance to the attention of his superiors. His concerns weren’t met receptively, to put it mildly.
‘His, and some colleagues’, efforts to get the Inspector General of the US Department of Defense to investigate the matter, produced FBI raids into their homes, and seizures of their computers, so as to remove incriminating evidence they might have against higher-ups.’ (Strategic Culture)
Now, Binney is making headlines again with claims that the ‘Russiagate’ scandal is a contrived brainchild of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party. Beyond that, Binney believes that these ‘intentional distortions and concoctions…are backed and promoted by America’s military-industrial complex, whose stock-values rise accordingly with the lies.’
His column, entitled ‘How to Instantly Prove (Or Disprove) Russian Hacking of U.S. Election’, embraces the underlying assumption which many have come to accept, that assumption being that leaked DNC emails were not the result of any hack at all, but of internal leaks, as Julian Assange of Wikileaks has confirmed.
The revelatory aspect of Binney’s article, however, is his assertion that the NSA has access to information which could prove precisely who ‘hacked’ the DNC email server. If there is no proof of this hacking, as a lack of such a disclosure would seem to suggest, Binney suggests that this confirms the widely-held view that indeed it was not a hack, but an internal leak which exposed the primary rigging we know occurred in the 2016 election cycle. The Intercept reported that Binney met with CIA Director Mike Pompeo to share his view on the matter, though one would think Pompeo would be privy to the same information, if not far more, than Binney currently possesses.
Binney explained the rationale behind his claims to the site Washington’s Blog.
‘From the data collection, they would have all the data as it existed in the server taken from. That’s why I originally said if the FBI wanted Hillary’s email, all they have to do is ask NSA for them.
Binney also pointed me towards a couple of network engineering principles that show that figuring out who hacked the emails (or proving they were leaked) is well within NSA’s capabilities.
You can tell from the network log who is going into a site. I used that on networks that I had. I looked to see who came into my LAN, where they went, how long they stayed and what they did while in my network.
If it were the Russians, NSA would have a trace route to them and not equivocate on who did it.’
World-famous NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden highlighted the contradictory approaches that the FBI and NSA have taken to different ‘hacks’, confirming Binney’s assertion that tracing the pattern of genuine email-server hacking is well within the agencies’ capabilities.
The well-founded assertion that the NSA, a government agency already shrouded in secrecy and skepticism by much of the American public, could definitively put the Russiagate controversy to bed but has refused or failed to do so only brings more doubt upon their motives and utility. Binney assigns a sinister motive to the ambiguity which he believes could be easily removed from Russia-gate discourse.
'If the idiots in the intelligence community expect us to believe them after all the crap they have told us (like WMD’s in Iraq and “no we don’t collect data on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans”) then they need to give clear proof of what they say. So far, they have failed to prove anything, Binney said.
Which suggests they don’t have proof and just want to war monger the US public into a second cold war with the Russians.
After all, there’s lots and lots of money in that for the military-industrial-intelligence-governmental complex of incestuous relationships.’
Broader implications about the military-industrial complex aside, Binney knows what he’s talking about when it comes to the specifics of what the NSA and FBI can and can’t prove when it comes to email hacking. As the Sony hacking case shows, and based on what we know about the NSA’s general data-collection processes, they could determine whether Russians were involved in hacking the DNC’s email servers. Yet, they have refused to disclose this easily-traceable matter.
Binney believes that the coyness of the NSA regarding the matter is somehow related to the advancement of a second Cold War. Such a conclusion constitutes a logical, albeit speculative, leap. However, it’s not a leap at all. The intelligence community can and should disclose a definitive answer as to the origins of the DNC email leaks. Why they have not is unjustifiable, and it lends credence to theories such as Binney’s which assign malevolent motives to the intelligence community’s silence on the issue.