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NSA Insiders Reveal What Went Wrong

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Reacting to the Review Group's report, a member of Congress involved in intelligence issues told a reporter, "That was the ballgame ... It flies in the face of everything they have tossed at us."

While this finding of the Review Group is a further blow to Keith "54-terrorist-plots-thwarted" Alexander's credibility, it is no surprise to us. More important, it goes to the heart of whether NSA's bulk collection is more hindrance than help in preventing terrorist attacks. We suggest, with all due respect, that you give us an opportunity to brief you, before you find yourself repeating undocumented claims like "lives have been saved," and demonstrably false claims that no abuses have occurred.

What passes for a process for collection and analysis at NSA appears to be highly inefficient and ineffective. How else does one explain missing the bombers of Boston, Times Square, and the underwear bomber over Detroit?

In short, we would like to talk to you about things you might otherwise have no way of knowing, given that our information reflects so poorly on top NSA management past and present. You and the country are ill served by the reluctance of your national security advisers to give a hearing to former intelligence insiders like us. Your advisers may be too inexperienced to realize that circling the wagons is not going to work this time. This time the truth will out.

Clapper & Alexander

Surely you have asked National Intelligence Director James Clapper flat-out why, in formal testimony to the Senate on March 12, 2013 he answered "No, Sir" to Senator Ron Wyden's question, "Does the NSA collect any type of data on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?"

Surely you know that Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein persists in covering for Clapper, telling ABC three months after Clapper's falsehood that "there is no more direct or honest person than Jim Clapper." And now Director Clapper's lawyer, Mr. Litt, is trying to convince readers of the New York Times that Clapper did not lie.

Surely you intuit that something is askew when NSA Director Keith Alexander testifies to Congress that NSA's bulk collection has "thwarted" 54 terrorist plots and later, under questioning, is forced to reduce that number to one, which cannot itself withstand close scrutiny. And surely you understand why former NSA Director and CIA Director Michael Hayden protests too much and too often on Fox News and CNN, and why he and House Intelligence Committee Mike Rogers publicly suggest that whistleblower Edward Snowden be put on your Kill List.

Does a blind loyalty prevail in your White House to the point where, 40 years after Watergate, there is not a single John Dean to warn you of a "cancer on the presidency?" Have none of your lawyers reminded you that "electronic surveillance of private citizens ... subversive of constitutional government" was one of the three Articles of Impeachment against President Richard Nixon approved by a bipartisan 28 to 10 vote of the House Judiciary Committee on July 27, 1974?

Let us be clear. Candor dictates that we state up front that the more skeptical among us suspect that you are not as isolated from the truth about NSA activities as it might seem. That notwithstanding, for purposes of this Memorandum we choose to adopt a broader view and assume you would welcome help from former insiders who chose to leave rather than become complicit in NSA abuses.

What we tell you in this Memorandum is merely the tip of the iceberg. We are ready -- if you are -- for an honest conversation. That NSA's bulk collection is more hindrance than help in preventing terrorist attacks should be clear by now despite the false claims and dissembling.

What we shall now attempt to explain to you is how corruption -- born of lust for billions of dollars, and the power that comes with that -- scotched implementation of an inexpensive and demonstrably superior in-house technical program the prototype of which was up and running before 2001. Not only did it hold considerable promise, it also honored the privacy protections guaranteed American citizens under the Fourth Amendment.

Fourth Amendment-Compliant Technology That Worked

No one currently working for NSA Director Alexander is likely to tell you this, so please hear it from us. In the years before 9/11, a group of NSA mathematicians and computer technology experts led by Binney, Loomis, and Wiebe devised a process called THINTHREAD for collection and rapid analysis of billions of electronic records relating to targets of intelligence interest, with automatic encryption of information about U.S. persons, per the standard of FISA and the Fourth Amendment.

Data on U.S. citizens could be decrypted only if a judge approved it after a finding that there was probable cause to believe that the target was connected with terrorism or other crimes. It was also considerably cheaper, easier, and more secure to store such data in encrypted format rather than allow that raw information to remain vulnerable to unauthorized parties in unencrypted form, as NSA chose to do. A fuller understanding of THINTHREAD's capabilities is necessary to appreciate the implications of what came next.

THINTHREAD, you see, was a fundamental beginning to breaking the endemic problem of stovepipes -- that is, stand-alone collection systems with stand-alone databases. There was such a maze of databases, with special security compartmentation, that it was impossible for an analyst to "see" more than a few pages, so to speak, about a target, much less a whole chapter, let alone the whole available book. Information was fragmented by design, in order to placate functionaries blindly placing tight security above virtually all other considerations -- even, in this case, the analyst's need to know.

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Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for 27 years, and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). His (more...)
 

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I would love to ask Feinstein: Who attacked us on... by Mark Adams JD/MBA on Tuesday, Jan 7, 2014 at 6:11:26 PM
Thomas Drake has revealed himself. And Ray McGove... by Paul Repstock on Wednesday, Jan 8, 2014 at 1:00:56 AM
One can only assume that extreme presure has been... by Paul Repstock on Wednesday, Jan 8, 2014 at 1:10:22 AM
You hypercritical offspring of a mutated canine. ... by Old Gray Mule on Wednesday, Jan 8, 2014 at 2:54:51 PM
Don't insult my Mother. I alone am responsible fo... by Paul Repstock on Wednesday, Jan 8, 2014 at 8:59:29 PM
A warning for all those people who are sitting on... by Paul Repstock on Wednesday, Jan 8, 2014 at 10:52:07 AM
McGovern, a CIA veteran insider, insists on calli... by Joe Giambrone on Wednesday, Jan 8, 2014 at 2:22:39 PM
... except there's no evidence of al Qaeda (a CIA ... by Paul Carline on Thursday, Jan 9, 2014 at 3:53:44 AM
Couldn't agree more with you, Paul, note my post. ... by Eddy Schmid on Thursday, Jan 9, 2014 at 4:03:30 AM
Dead right Joe, it would appear the Nazi saying; "... by Eddy Schmid on Thursday, Jan 9, 2014 at 4:05:33 AM
Justfkn amazing. Thank you all for this letter. Be... by remo on Wednesday, Jan 8, 2014 at 4:29:46 PM
ok. I'm doing reasonably fine up to the odius vamp... by remo on Wednesday, Jan 8, 2014 at 11:45:26 PM
Very valuable, thanks ... by BFalcon on Thursday, Jan 9, 2014 at 12:00:08 AM
The problem with this article, is the author acce... by Eddy Schmid on Thursday, Jan 9, 2014 at 4:02:05 AM