A GOOD AMERICAN – Bill Binney, NSA and September 11

A GOOD AMERICAN is a documentary by Friedrich Moser co-produced by Oliver Stone on the mass surveillance activities of the National Security Agency (NSA).

September 11 could have been avoided. William Edward Binney has no doubts about that, even to the point of apologizing to the American people for this and other things. Who is Bill Binney? A mathematics genius specialized in code-breaking, working for over 30 years as a top analyst for the National Security Agency, the largest and most sophisticated intelligence agency in the world, able to intercept every type of communication.

Bill Binney is a brave man, of great intellectual honesty and profound sense of ethical duty. A Good American. He has dedicated his life to deciphering coded communications, to “make them speak” for the service of Pax americana. Then, in 2001, he turned whistleblower, an Edward Snowden ante-litteram.

In the seventies, Bill Binney spied on Soviet movements along the border with Turkey.

” […] I worked on a rather large system of military data. The Soviet data system had still not been decoded, we were monitoring the morse code signals, the satellite communications, everything we called at that time traffic […]; mathematical models allowed me to link that data to real events in the field. In short, I was able to reconstruct the command and control bodies, all the system.” (B.Binney)

Binney was successful in creating links among the data, even when it had not been decodable. Something thought to be impossible at the time. In short, he invented the analysis of what today we call metadata.

“It is not the contents, but who is speaking with whom and how many times a day”. 

Binney identified five surveillance indicators capable of forecasting the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia (1968), Afghanistan (1989) and the Yom Kippur War (1973).

Because of his skills, the NSA called him to head the Signals Intelligence Automation Research Center (SARC). The super analyst was years ahead of the official intelligence, fully aware that wars of the future would be conducted through the internet.

We are in the nineties, his surveillance area is the movements of an Islamic group which, for him, appears to be very organized around a certain Osama Bin Laden.

“Who cares about a camel driver who spits out fatwà in the desert? We heard this from a top state official who we presented our report to.”

September 11 could have been avoided because the NSA had the possibility to do so. The j’accuse of Binney is not withdrawn before the accusations of searches, judicial proceedings brought against him and his team – Kirk Wiebe, Ed Loomis, Thomas Drake and Diane Roark.

September 11 could have been avoided and Binney had all the proof. Three times larger than the C.I.A., with the end of the Cold War, the mission of the NSA was no longer clear, without the “Soviet enemy” it didn’t know what to do, and was especially struggling to enter the new digital era. Meanwhile, Binney refined his “creature”, the ThinThread program, able to select and connect in real time the data useful for intelligence activities.

“Until that moment it had seemed impossible to map two and a half billion telephones in the world and more than one billion IP addresses. With the ‘big graph’, as I called it, I was able to relate all the data concerning financial transactions, trips, online research, GPS and every other useful tool to uncover the bad guys.”

Binney had grown up in the post-war period, with true American values. The privacy of American citizens is one of these. He defended it, coming up, within ThinThread, with a system that blocks the decrypting and processing of data not relevant to suspicious cases and without judicial authorization. After September 11, there would be the new head of the NSA, General Michael Hayden, abetted by the White House of G.W. Bush, to walk right over the privacy of Americans. The “anonymity filter” of Binney was removed, and without his knowledge.

“When I discovered that they were gathering all that data and tracing every single relation of the American citizens who were using the telephone or other electronic devises I understood that I had to leave the NSA. Which I did, together with my team on 31 October 2001.”

ThinThread had three advantages: it greatly reduced the enormous mountain of data collected which the analysts had to interpret; it protected the privacy of citizens; and above all didn’t cost much. In Binney’s opinion, this was the reason why ThinThread was scrapped a few weeks before September 11. In 1999, Binney recounted, the NSA allocated more than one billion dollars to update Thin Thread.

“With all that money we could have updated the entire world…it actually would have needed only 300 million”.

“Yes, but the money, we make them give us all the same – I felt I had to respond”.

And so it happened. ThinThread was replaced by a new program, Trailblazer, awarded to private contractors. The program did nothing. It was abandoned in 2006. A 1.2 billion dollar flop.

“September 11 could have been avoided, we had all the data”.

The SARC team, led by Bill Binney, tried to get ThinThread to the government by other means. But in vain. All the government agencies, the CIA at the head, rejected it. And if that wasn’t enough, the FBI opened an inquiry regarding Bill, Kirk, Ed and Diana, shelved as it was based on false evidence. Why? Because ThinThread would have belied the actions of the NSA and, especially, the enormous amounts of money which it sucked up to pay for other programs, lacking in safeguarding of citizen privacy rights.

After the Twin Towers attack, the United States continued increasing its mass surveillance programs, completely dismantling the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, which prohibited the intelligence services from spying on citizens without a warrant.

The legislation after September 11, the Patriot Act, rendered mass surveillance practically boundless, and was only slightly modified by Obama’s Freedom Act which introduced restrictions on the government regarding telephone tapping…. but only if contested! In short, no red light in collecting data in and outside the United States. The case of the National Security Agency is not unique, similar systems were adopted in other parts of the world.

“Very few know the exact extent and powers of the NSA surveillance.”

Thanks to A GOOD AMERICAN we now also know something more.

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