With a video interview released Sunday by The Guardian, we now know 29-year-old contractor Edward Snowden as the whistleblower behind leaks of secret NSA spying programs.
There’s a big reason why many are quick to believe his claims of vast government surveillance — with the NSA intercepting millions of phone calls and emails, and having supposed access to tech companies — because we’ve actually heard it all before.
Many will debate over the coming days and weeks whether he’s a hero or a traitor — or if he’s possibly stretching the truth — but it’s worth noting another, perhaps even more credible whistleblower that worked for the NSA.
His name is William Binney, a 32-year veteran of the secretive agency, and one of the best codebreakers in NSA history — who appeared in an Aug. 2012 video shot by Laura Poitras for The New York Times.
Binney detailed a top-secret surveillance program called “Stellar Wind” — the scope of which had never been public — which tracked electronic activities, including phone calls, emails, banking, travel records, and social media, and then mapped them to collect “all the attributes that any individual has” in every type of activity and build a profile based on the data.
“So that now I can pull your entire life together from all those domains and map it out and show your entire life over time,” Binney said in the interview.
From The Times:
“The decision must have been made in September 2001,” Mr. Binney told me and the cinematographer Kirsten Johnson. “That’s when the equipment started coming in.” In this Op-Doc, Mr. Binney explains how the program he created for foreign intelligence gathering was turned inward on this country. He resigned over this in 2001 and began speaking out publicly in the last year.
Another whistleblower named Thomas Tamm — an official with the Justice Department — also came forward after uncovering the Bush administration’s secret authorizations to intercept emails and phone calls inside the U.S. without warrants.
From Michael Isikoff, writing in Newsweek:
The unit had special rules that appeared to be hiding the NSA activities from a panel of federal judges who are required to approve such surveillance. When Tamm started asking questions, his supervisors told him to drop the subject. He says one volunteered that “the program” (as it was commonly called within the office) was “probably illegal.”
In his interview in a Hong Kong hotel room, Edward Snowden told The Guardian the “intelligence community in general is focused on getting intelligence wherever it can by any means possible.”
With programs like Stellar Wind, and this week’s uncovering of PRISM — he may be right.
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