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Truthdigger of the Week: William Binney
Posted on Jul 14, 2012
Later on, in 2002, the NSA contracted corporations previously overseen by the new NTO director, including Pentagon favorites Boeing and Booz Allen Hamilton, to develop a new data-mining program called Trailblazer. With a starting price tag of $280 million and untold more that followed, ThinThread’s successor was set to do just what Binney’s program did, but without the privacy protections. Within four years it ran over budget, produced nothing but “colorful power points” and was shut down. But not without enriching a number of private interests.
The emerging culture of corporate patronage disgusted Binney. He was “this naive kid from the hills of Pennsylvania, thinking operations was important” when it was the “money and the flowing and the feeding and the feasting” that the agency had come to value. Realizing that his bosses were uninterested in creativity and solving problems, in 2001 Binney decided to quit.
But before he left, 9/11 happened.
“Even though there was all this corruption around me,” he said, he still wanted “to do something to stop the bad guys.” But his second thoughts would not last long. Just a week after the attacks, the Bush administration began spying on everyone in the country, a plan Binney said it had nursed since February 2001 when it asked telecommunications companies to provide the government with private information about their customers.
In the months after 9/11, Binney found himself in the horrifying position of seeing his government turn the software he had developed into a program for spying on his fellow Americans. He resigned and fought to hold back the flood. He and a small group of former colleagues approached members of the House Intelligence Committee, including Deputy Nancy Pelosi and Chairman Porter Goss, to expose what the agency and administration were up to. But they were ignored. In Binney’s words, they were “naive” enough to think that “if people in certain positions of government knew this was going on ... they would take some action to correct it.” The government did take action eventually. In an attempt to silence the whistle-blowers, the FBI raided their homes 2007. The agents who pointed guns at Binney and his family found nothing incriminating on him, and the event ended with Binney revealing classified information to officers who were not cleared to know it. The agent in charge of the raid knew that everything Binney said was true. He hung his head in silence while Binney spoke.
When officials later realized they had nothing on Binney, they offered him immunity if he agreed to give information on fellow whistle-blower Tom Drake. Binney told his lawyer to “tell those bastards to go piss up a rope.”
“These people are basically cowards,” he tells the audience at HOPE. “It didn’t scare me,” he says, complicating the common notion that calling out wrongdoing always takes courage. “What it did was make me mad.”
“These people are still hiding behind this ‘national security’ curtain,” he says. “All I want to do is move that aside and say ‘See ... pay attention to that man behind the curtain, because he’s affecting us. He’s affecting all of us,” because he’s setting the stage for an “Orwellian state.”
Binney’s speech concludes with the same wild applause that punctuates his talk whenever he speaks lines like that. Courage or not, for giving us a detailed look into the largest spying operation that has ever existed, and for vowing never to stop, William Binney is our Truthdigger of the Week.
An earlier version of this article said that HOPE “supposedly” inspired Julian Assange to create WikiLeaks. This could not be confirmed.
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