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Hailing Snowden, two NSA whistleblowers say he had no choice but to go outside the system

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Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden

I’ve faulted Terry Gross for not talking about Edward Snowden on her popular interview show on National Public Radio. Well yesterday she did. Gross introduced an interview by Dave Davies of Bill Binney and Kirk Wiebe, both of whom worked for the National Security Agency for decades and quit six weeks after 9/11 because their intelligence concerns were not being considered. The two were later targeted in a leak investigation by the FBI, and featured in this PBS documentary, The United States of Secrets.

From Fresh Air yesterday:

DAVIES: I want to ask you when the documents that were leaked by Edward Snowden started emerging in the media, were you upset about this? How did you regard it?

BINNEY: I looked at it as there’s still another whistleblower out there. I mean I looked at it as he saw what happened to us and realized that you couldn’t come out and say these things and have people believe you because they wouldn’t. What they would do, NSA would call you a disgruntled employee or they would call you mentally disturbed or something like that. So I couldn’t blame him for taking some material. I didn’t realize he took so much of it, but I mean certainly enough material to justify or show and prove what he was alleging was true, and that’s certainly is what he’s done, has done a public service for everybody in this country and everybody around the world.

DAVIES: Kirk Wiebe, do you agree? I mean some say, you know, you should try within the system first.

WIEBE: Well…


WIEBE: We did. We tried for several years to do it within the system and look what they did to us. Clearly Edward Snowden saw that and said that’s obviously not an option, obviously not an option. And just to be a little more formal, there are no whistleblower protections for any employee of the intelligence – U.S. intelligence community. There are a modicum of protections for other government employees, but not inside the intelligence community.

DAVIES: President Obama came into office talking about transparency and extolling the value of whistleblowers. But his administration has been very tough on investigations of leakers. In fact, there’s still an attempt to get James Risen into court to testify about a source. I mean he could be facing a contempt citation and prison. And I’m wondering, I mean clearly you spent a lot of years – both of you – in an agency where secrets were important to keep and you believed that some secrets have to be kept.

What should a government do if it feels someone is leaking important information?

WIEBE: Well, first of all, I mean if they took whistleblowers who usually go internally to begin with and actually did something about it to try to correct a problem instead of covering it up – which is what they consistently have been doing, if they actually did something positive to try to resolve the issues that are being raised by whistleblowers, they wouldn’t have this problem.


Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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16 Responses

  1. HarryLaw on May 13, 2014, 12:32 pm

    This issue is out of control, they sweep everything up, every telephone call, every stroke of your computer keyboard, we are being watched 24/7 “Pennsylvania parents suing their son’s school, alleging it watched him through his laptop’s webcam while he was at home and unaware he was being observed.” This is beyond “1984”, all of it illegal, I would not be surprised if those spooks looked in at Mondoweiss occasionally to see how the “troublemakers” were behaving. Even ex President Carter has said he uses letters instead of electronic means for communication, when the US government has the means to acquire so much information on any individual, including their political opponents, if it has not already arrived, a police state is just around the corner.

    • lysias on May 13, 2014, 12:36 pm

      I don’t think they can succeed in establishing a real police state. They rely too much on the expertise of techies who (like Snowden) would never tolerate such a thing.

      • ritzl on May 13, 2014, 1:15 pm

        Great point, lysias. Not only never tolerate, but it’s as easy to release vast amounts of secure[ity] information as it is to collect it. That’s a pretty significant single point failure mode for at least the concept of a security state.

        Maybe there’s a workaround to prevent that or tip the balance more toward the collection side, but that would mean limiting the distribution of collected info which would seem to defeat the purpose of collecting so much info in the first place.

        Interesting conundrum.

  2. lysias on May 13, 2014, 12:34 pm

    From Firedoglake piece on new Greenwald book:

    A few slides reflect the tension between the US and Israel. “Balancing the SIGINT exchange equally between US and Israeli needs has been a constant challenge in the last decade.” And, “It arguably tilted heavily in favor of Israeli security concerns.” As 9/11 came and went, this counterterrorism relationship continued to be “driven almost totally by the needs of the partner”—Israel.>/blockquote>

  3. lysias on May 13, 2014, 2:41 pm

    Seems Israel gets something like $50 to $100 million per year funding from the NSA for signals intelligence, according to a Snowden document.

  4. lysias on May 13, 2014, 5:13 pm

    Israel is on the NSA’s list of Third-Party Approved SIGINT Partners. Also on list: Jordan, Turkey, UAE, Pakistan, Algeria, Austria, Croatia, Romania, Czech Republic, Macedonia.

    Not on list: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Iran (of course), India, Afghanistan, Portugal, Ireland, Iceland, Luxemburg, Switzerland, Slovenia, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Ukraine.

  5. John Douglas on May 13, 2014, 8:08 pm

    Just one consequence of what government spying is doing. Could there ever be a truly reformist president? A president for example who promised to get the military/security economy under control. Has he or she ever seen a psychiatrist, a hooker, voted for a socialist candidate, had an abortion, had a mentally ill parent, gotten someone pregnant in high school, been pregnant in high school, cheated on an exam, signed an anti gun petition, had a DWI, taken Das Kapital out of the library, you get the picture. It would be open season. So Karl Rove now states that Hillary might be mentally ill. Imagine if he had a source in the NSA.

  6. Kathleen on May 14, 2014, 2:15 pm

    Anyone else watch “United States of Secrets” last night? Could not believe that they started the documentary at 9/11 and then go on to wonder “how did this happen.” No mention at all of counter terrorism expert (served four Presidents) Richard Clarke’s persistent and serious efforts to sit down with Condi Rice, Stephen Hadley early on during the Bush administration to discuss Al Qeada and other threats. He was ignored for months. No mention of how the irresponsible the Bush administration was to ignore Clarke.. Not a whisper. Clarke comes in later during the documentary and addresses Obama’s approach to threats etc.

    Lots of focus on OLC David Addington’s role in pushing the spying program. Rewriting laws etc. Did not hear anything knew but sure refreshed much of what I have read in the past about the OLC re-writing laws, trumping Comey etc. Had forgotten that Goldsmith and Addington had butted heads so seriously.

    Also no mention of how Fox News reporter Carl Cameron came out with that four part report on data mining, Israeli private communication companies having access to 95% of American’s calls, back door compromised etc. Cameron was the first one to my knowledge to report about the spying on Americans issue soon after 9/11. I believe there is a second part tonight on PBS

    • ritzl on May 14, 2014, 4:42 pm

      While it did leave out big chunks that you mention, Kathleen, it did start to portray Snowden as a hero, particularly against the backdrop of NYT editorial cowardice. That’s a good thing. Maybe they’ll continue in that vein next part.

      I thought the looks on Keller’s face when he was confronted by the reporter for spiking the story (that Snowden revealed) was alone worth the watch. But the bald-faced lies and illegalities admitted to by Gonzales, Hayden, and Card (complete with canary-feathered smirks) were right up there.

      The glimpse into the NYT’s editorial totalitarianism was interesting as well. The fact that the NYT only got interested in the story when Risen threatened to publish a book, that they called Risen “insubordinate,” and the fact that it worked on Risen (given the enormity and impact of the story), were all quite revealing.

      Looking forward to Part II. Thanks for bringing it up. Maybe the Israel angle will eventually surface (no mention of the US-Israel metadata “handoff” formalization a few months ago either, but perhaps P.II with that also…).

      • lysias on May 14, 2014, 5:07 pm

        Greenwald’s new book, which I am just now in the process of reading, does not ignore the memorandum of understanding between the NSA and Israel.

      • ritzl on May 14, 2014, 5:16 pm

        I know I’m probably the first to say it but, Greenwald’s amazing. :)

        Thanks lysias. That’s now my next Audible book. And I’m glad you’re contributing on this. Great comments.

      • Kathleen on May 14, 2014, 9:44 pm

        Keller’s bloody New York Times pushed the invasion of Iraq with lies (Judy “I was fucking right” Miller) and then held the NSA story back. No agenda there

    • lysias on May 14, 2014, 5:05 pm

      The recently deceased Michael Ruppert claims in his Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil that Carl Cameron’s source was none other than — Dick Cheney!

      • lysias on May 14, 2014, 5:17 pm

        I just remembered. Ruppert said he had heard Brit Hume of Fox News say that Cheney was the source.

    • Citizen on May 14, 2014, 5:19 pm

      @ Kathleen

      Yeah, I watched it. I will be looking tonight for the second episode. Main thing I got out of it was that Snowden was smart to not go through the usual channels, to not go up the system to get any satisfaction by working within the system.

      I think of the growing dissent in Nazi Germany, and how ineffective it was when trying to work within the system. I don’t things have changed.

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