My series of “Insider Interviews” has focused on the inner workings of those agencies which are charged to protect us, but, all too often and without our permission, work against us as free citizens entitled to our rights under the constitution. Many still don’t know, or choose to deny, the abusive, invasive domestic spying perpetrated by those we entrust to protect us, but instead choose to insert themselves into our daily emails, phone calls, web searches, texts and more.
Included in my writings has been time with a former agent with the FBI, Coleen Rowley; Former operative with the CIA, Verne Lyon; and now a former highly placed intelligence official with the United States National Security Agency turned whistleblower, William Binney.
My articles have asked questions about their individual specific experiences and their work in general serving our country. All have left their service with disdain and disgust for the agencies they dedicated their lives. They were ignored in their presentation of important intel related to such events and domestic spying and even pre-9/11 activities. They witnessed things, were asked to do things they felt were either illegal or immoral so, being vocal in their objections, were labeled whistleblowers and left their posts.
The anti-American, possibly traitorous, acts committed by some at the upper layers of our intel community is being seen daily in the news. DOJ committing domestic surveillance and illegal leaking of people and events.
We’ve seen FBI agents openly abusing their positions with ineffective investigation of anti-American, crime committing politicians, while selectively pursuing and attempting to replace a sitting, duly-elected president. All for partisan, pestiferous, personal, political, parlous reasons.
In order to see the relevance of their answers and the views they share, I’ve selected certain questions and their compared answers.
RB ~ Today we see such a pervasiveness of corruption in the higher levels of leadership. In the early days, was there more of a separation between national security and politics? The line seems very blurry these days. And are people trying to take down our country, or just looking for personal gain and power?
WB ~ In the past, IC agencies were much less political with the exception of the Nixon administration where NSA (program Mineret), FBI (program Cointelpro) and CIA (program Chaos) spied on Americans who opposed Nixon policies. After Bush/Cheney and Obama, it’s no holds barred.
VL~ The difference between the two was always blurred. Higher ups in the CIA helped write both foreign and domestic policy instead of just providing intelligence.
CR ~ I think that it’s obvious some of the leaders of the bigger intelligence agencies have indeed used and abused their “national security” surveillance powers for improper political purposes. Some of us warned that would happen if the massive monitoring and data collection was not reigned in after Snowden’s and other NSA whistleblowers’ disclosures. (See my 2013 essay on CNN: “Massive Spying on Americans is Outrageous”.) The current situation is a bit of history repeating itself if you go back to the J. Edgar Hoover days, when Hoover’s broad, virtually unfettered spying, including on political figures, was based on his (and Joseph McCarthy’s-HUAC’s) hysterical fear of communism during the Cold War and then the Korean and Vietnam Wars. The Church Committee reigned some of those abuses in after Hoover died, but almost all of the Church Committee reforms–for instance in the form of Attorney General Guidelines and strict separation between criminal and intelligence matters– have now been rolled back.
Hoover’s 47 year term as FBI Director and his gathering of info (including a lot of “dirt,” in some cases creating secret files on politicians and government leaders, made him arguably more powerful than the presidents and other politicians. But as a balance, the FBI was the agency most restricted from engaging in any partisan political activity under the strictest provisions of the Hatch Act. I’ve read that Hoover himself, realizing his vast power, boasted that he would not even vote (so as to not show favoritism). Over the years, the Hatch Act got watered down, first reducing the prohibitions on the Department of Justice and US Attorneys’ offices, to allow them to engage in more political activity, and then even reducing some of the restrictions upon FBI personnel.
Perhaps more importantly, corruption occurs via politically appointed agency leaders constantly going back and forth through the “revolving door” to profit from their public service in the private sectors. Nearly all FBI managers get lucrative second careers after early retirement which sets up numerous potential conflicts of interest. This happened far less frequently when I joined the FBI, partly because after a 25 to 30 year career, most FBI agents just retired on their pensions and did not go on to lucrative second jobs.
RB ~ It used to be we never thought of much except who’s playing Friday night at the high school, where’s lunch after church on Sundays, but now… it’s the FBI in our face, the IRS after our records, the NSA storing emails and phone numbers and the CIA doing who knows what. Did this really need to get to the level it is with normal everyday patriotic Americas?
WB ~ No, and they all knew there was an alternative to bulk data collection/mass surveillance; but, they chose to go down that rat hole because it gave them power over everyone and cost about 1000 times more to do. This cost to the tax payer went into the Military/industrial/intelligence/governmental complex that help enable them to maintain power and control.
VL~ It is where it is due to the rapid, uncontrolled expansion of technology in communications, satellites, social media, news from every corner of the world within a few minutes, the internet, hacking, etc. Our society as well as most governments live in the NOW and want to respond at once to news, etc. After 911, we all gave up personal freedoms for security and the Patriot Act which the government exploits to the max.
CR ~ Well as many lament, Orwell’s “1984” was not supposed to be a “How To Manual.” It’s a very sad situation that has now developed and which may have gotten its start when Eisenhower’s warning about the “Military Industrial Complex” went unheeded. Now we have a Military-Congressional-National Security-Media Complex that has fully metastasized as I detailed in “War on Terror: a False Promise for National Security.” Even the rule of law has taken a back seat these days which, by the way, was what Founding Father James Madison, Father of the Constitution, warned, that “no country can maintain its freedom in the midst of continual war.”
RB ~ People used to think that national security meant protecting us from foreign entities bent on our destruction. But then talk of special phone equipment rooms in San Francisco surfaced with connections to the government, and now that huge collection facility in Camp Williams, Utah came to light. People couldn’t believe their eyes. How were explanations handled internally about such expansion? Or was it common knowledge that the government was now in the data collection/citizen surveillance business?
WB ~ Inside the IC agencies especially NSA/CIA/FBI/DEA/DNI and the DOJ, it was known in a limited way initially; but, after the New York Times article in 2005 and then with later compromises, they all know; but many, I think, still don’t believe it or are afraid to talk about it openly.
VL~ I think that Edward Snowden, now living in exile in Russia, showed us how pervasive the government is in gathering all kinds of intelligence on the average citizen.
CR ~ When the NSA turned on its illegal, warrantless surveillance of Americans just days after 9-11, then called the “Presidential Surveillance Program” enabled via secret legal interpretations and emergency orders signed off every 90 days by the Attorney General, it was a closely held secret. Even those attorneys working on regular (legal) secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) matters, were not all in the loop. The first whistleblowers, like DOJ Attorney Thomas Tamm, whose father had been an FBI official, figured out that the illegal surveillance was taking place but he was cautioned not to ask any more questions. I retired at the end of 2004 and although I think at that time, most of us suspected that things had already vastly changed, most of these draconian changes, not only the illegal surveillance but also the illegal kidnappings and torture was still a closely guarded secret from most employees of the intelligence community.
I made a few complaints to the Department of Justice Inspector General regarding wrongful and illegal surveillance actions that I became aware of and I detailed some of these, including the wrongful post 9-11 detentions of nearly 1000 immigrants in a letter to Mueller in February 2003, written to caution against his going along with going to war on Iraq.
Eventually the NY Times broke the story of the illegal “Presidential Program” in 2005, over a year after they got the story but were threatened by the Bush Administration not to publish it. Bush immediately re-labeled the program the “Terrorist Surveillance Program” and although some aspects changed, it mostly continued in different forms, despite being disclosed by several NSA whistleblowers, and eventually in documents from Edward Snowden.
RB ~ While surveilling citizens with ties to terrorists should warrant close examination, can’t John Doe and his parents be left alone in peace? (AKA James Rosen from FOX News?)
WB ~ Yes; but, that’s not what they are doing. FBI/DEA and others are using bulk collection to find common criminals inside the US. And, they use it to intimidate anyone doing something they don’t like: Jim Risen, Jim Rosen, Associated press, Tea Party, occupy group, Elliot Spitzer, Joe Nacchio, whistleblowers, etc. See programs Fairview, STORMBREW, BLARNEY plus others in the UPSTREAM bulk data collection.
VL~ The line dividing the domain between the FBI’s former exclusive powers to do domestic spying and the CIA’s mandate to handle everything beyond the borders has become so blurred that the NSA’s collection of date from both actually negates separation of powers.
CR ~ Before 9-11, nearly all of the news industry thought that the First Amendment provided them some protection in publishing news from their sources, even if the information was classified. The thought was that there was some remaining remnant of “Reporters Privilege” and/or that the provisions of the old 1917 “Espionage Act” that could be used to charge reporters with receiving/retaining classified information would be held unconstitutional if ever the Department of Justice decided to charge a member of the press with that violation. But that’s no longer the case after the Plame investigation wherein reporters were jailed or threatened with jail for not giving up the identities of their news sources; after FOX Reporter Rosen was named as a “conspirator” in a search warrant; after the DOJ went after then NYT reporter James Risen for publishing classified information and other cases like this. Members of the press now realize they have very little legal protection under the First Amendment so some try to be pragmatic and rely on their own efforts such as encryption to keep their sources’ identities’ secret. Unfortunately, I think the majority, with few exceptions, have taken their cue from the government’s threats and have become more like stenographers of government press releases instead of actual investigative reporters.
In Part 2 we’ll compare thoughts on Edward Snowden, the intelligence community and political parties, the Clinton email hacking, current day domestic spying and more.
My heart felt thanks to these patriotics for their service to the country and the time they allowed me for these interviews.