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Again, we are prepared to brief you on the whole nine yards, so to speak. For now, we have decided to supplement the above with observations from our former colleague, Thomas Drake, who, as a contractor, had been thoroughly briefed on NSA programs, including THINTHREAD, before he joined the ranks of NSA as a senior executive. Thomas Drake writes:
"My first day on the job at NSA was 9/11. I was immediately charged as the lead NSA executive to find and deploy the best technology at NSA for the fight against terrorism. One of the programs I recommended to be resurrected for immediate operational implementation was THINTHREAD. I ran into a stone wall.
"As I pursued what I was tasked to do, I was surprised and deeply troubled to discover that, with a secret go-ahead from the White House, NSA had unchained itself from the protections of the Fourth Amendment and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. The vast power of NSA had been unleashed secretly on US citizens through a massive bulk surveillance program called STELLARWIND, a program completely unknown to most if not all of those working at the SIGINT Automatic Research Center. In the weeks after 9/11, 40 to 50 servers began arriving followed quickly by a whole new set of technical people who on September 26, 2001, turned STELLARWIND loose on all of us.- Advertisement -
"Even after the developers of THINTHREAD left NSA in October 2001, I kept trying to get it authorized to go operational -- in vain. However, I was able to acquire enough funding to complete a THINTHREAD Content Evaluation of NSA databases that contained huge amounts of collected data.
"That's where I found the pre- and post-9/11 intelligence from NSA monitoring of some of the hijackers as they planned the attacks of 9/11 had not been shared outside NSA. This includes critical pre-9/11 intelligence on al-Qaeda, even though it had been worked on by NSA analysts. I learned, for example, that in early 2001 NSA had produced a critical long-term analytic report unraveling the entire heart of al-Qaeda and associated movements. That report also was not disseminated outside of NSA.
"Make no mistake. That data and the analytic report could have, should have prevented 9/11.- Advertisement -
"Top NSA management knew that. They knew that I knew that. I was immediately shut down. In spring 2002, the remnants of THINTHREAD were unceremoniously put on the shelf in NSA's 'Indiana Jones' data warehouse, never to be seen again.
"Hiding the worst: In December 2001, Senator Saxby Chambliss, chair of a House Subcommittee on Homeland Security announced a preliminary investigation into 9/11. At a SIGINT Leadership Team meeting in February 2002, SIGINT chief Maureen Baginski directed me to lead a NSA Statement-for-the-Record effort for a closed-door hearing scheduled by Sen. Chambliss for early March to discuss what NSA knew about the 9/11 hijackers and their plotting before 9/11.
"As indicated above, the highly embarrassing answer was that NSA knew a great deal, but had not shared what it knew outside of NSA.
"After a couple of weeks Baginski rejected my draft team Statement for the Record report and removed me from the task. When I asked her why, she said there was a 'data integrity problem' (not further explained) with my draft Statement for the Record. I had come upon additional damaging revelations. For example, NSA had the content of telephone calls between AA-77 hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar in San Diego, CA, and the known al-Qaeda safe house switchboard in Yemen well before 9/11, and had not disseminated that information beyond NSA.
"In short, when confronted with the prospect of fessing up, NSA chose instead to obstruct the 9/11 congressional investigation, play dumb, and keep the truth buried, including the fact that it knew about all inbound and outbound calls to the safe house switchboard in Yemen. NSA's senior leaders took me off the task because they realized -- belatedly, for some reason -- that I would not take part in covering up the truth about how much NSA knew but did not share.
"When the 9/11 Commission hearings began, Director Hayden chortled at executive staff meetings over the fact that the FBI and CIA were feeling the heat for not having prevented 9/11. This was particularly difficult for me to sit through, for I was aware that NSA had been able to cover up its own culpability by keeping investigators, committees, and commissions away from the truth.- Advertisement -
"I subsequently blew the whistle on the TRAILBLAZER fiasco, STELLARWIND, NSA's hoarding of critical pre- and post-9/11 intelligence, and its cover-up. I shared this information via proper channels with the Joint Congressional Inquiry on 9/11 and the Defense Department Inspector General -- to no avail.
"Against this background, it is difficult to listen to the manufactured claim so frequently heard these days to the effect that, had bulk collection been operational before 9/11, it would have prevented the 9/11 attacks. The mantra is convenient for those defending NSA overreach; it is also bogus.