Washington’s Blog asked Drake if America is drifting towards tyranny.
WASHINGTON’S BLOG: Senator Frank Church – who chaired the famous “Church Committee” on the unlawful FBI Cointel program, and who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – said in 1975:
“Th[e National Security Agency’s] capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide. [If a dictator ever took over, the N.S.A.] could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back.“
Is the NSA turning its capability around on the American people, as Senator Church warned?
THOMAS DRAKE: I believe they are. Those words are words that have been ringing from inside Pandora’s box … the one that I opened and looked into right after 9/11.
I grew up in the early 70′s as a very young teenager, and I remember those hearings in 1975. And it was rather a dramatic warning that he [Senator Church] actually issued to the nation.
I never imagined in ’75 that in a short 26 years later that I would become confronted by the stark reality that my own government would jettison the Constitution.
And doing so in the deepest of secrecy under the mantle, the excuse, the label of “national security”. I shudder every time I hear national security invoked. Somehow it’s some “special dispension” when you use it in any sentence, that “justifies” anything when it’s done for (ostensibly) national security purposes.
In many respects, the most virulent form [of tyranny] is when it’s least obvious.
There’s already a digital fence all around us. Extraordinary reach by the government, often in direct partnership with certain corporations, usually very large corporations.
It’s actually replacing the body politic with an alien substance. And it’s certainly not the form of government – or substance of government – that I took an oath to support and defend four times.
WASHINGTON’S BLOG: Do you think we already have tyranny in the U.S.? Or how close do you think we are?
THOMAS DRAKE: We’re not an actual fascist surveillance state in the traditionally defined sense of the word.
Even the Stasi – who were the dreaded secret police in East Germany, a country upon which I became an expert during my RC-135 crypto-linguist and electronic warfare days, during the latter days of the cold war, even going into the ’70s, when they would use rather harsh techniques on their own population, or dissidents, or those who were considered enemies of the state – they actually went to psychological techniques.
The term they used was “zersetzlich” – the German translation is “to decompose”, really to fragment you, to isolate you. That’s psychological … and that has far greater greater impact.
So what you would do is selectively go after certain people to send the message. So you don’t have to be taking people off the street each and every day. Because that’s an obvious thing, and you’re going to resist it.
Remember, this is ultimately about social control. This is about social tracking. [He’s right.] It goes far beyond any stated purpose of providing for common defense ….
This upends it, because now you’re using the very instruments of power to track and control your own population. And it’s better [from the perspective of those in power] to do it behind the scenes and without the population knowing fully how you’re doing it, as opposed to being on the street with tanks on the corners.
We have episodes [of tyranny]. With the Boston Marathon bomber, we effectively had martial law for short periods of time in certain neighborhoods. People who’ve seen the videos … there was no law. [See for yourself.] “The law is what we say it is, because we’re in charge.”
WASHINGTON’S BLOG: High-level NSA whistleblower Bill Binney says that we already have a police state, because government agencies are using information gathered through mass NSA surveillance – laundering it in order to hide its origin – and using “parallel construction” to create the evidence to use against people. [Former Top NSA Official: “We Are Now In A Police State”] What do you think?
THOMAS DRAKE: Yes. Remember, this is behind the scenes. Secret evidence collected for national intelligence purposes gets “repurposed”.
The cover of collecting for intelligence purposes gives me wide purview, because I also have enabling act legislation that’s allowed me to do that – and then some – plus the secret interpretations. [See this for an explanation of the “secret interpretations”.]
And I can take that evidence – which completely flips our system of justice – and then I can use it for other purposes.
In this case, they can use it to go after people with evidence that was actually gained by other means and then use that as the hidden cover … and then assert a standard judicial mechanisms when you go after somebody as if it was traditional law enforcement.
When in fact, you are actually corrupting the justice system, you’ve actually flipped the whole notion of innocent until proven guilty and the whole notion of – and this is crucial – under fifth and sixth amendment, never mind the fourth (as to how it was acquired) you have the right to face your accusers … you have a right to face witnesses.
How do you face your accusers when – and I saw this, unfortunately – in my own criminal case – that whole process is completely subverted? [See below for Drake’s Kafkaesque treatment in his criminal case.]
That raises the ugly specter of a police state mentality. We’re just going to go after anybody and how convenient is it to have mass surveillance data and “evidence”. If we already have it, then it’s not probable cause … but we’re going to assert it, because we have it. And it’s secret evidence. It’s literally secret evidence gained by other means.
And then you hide behind “state secrets” and executive privilege. And you have no “standing” [explanation] because you don’t know if you were harmed.
I think the most stark examples for me as far as what has transpired since the Snowden disclosures, is the claim by Keith Alexander about the “54 terrorist plots” that were somehow stopped, mitigated or blunted. But – in fact – what it turns out is that they weren’t. [Mass spying by the NSA has never stopped a single terrorist attack.]
WASHINGTON’S BLOG: $8,500 bucks sent abroad … [The one possible time that NSA mass surveillance might arguably have even contributed to stopping terrorism involved guys who sent $8,500 to their tribesmen in Somalia.]
THOMAS DRAKE: Right … and even that [could have been caught through] traditional law enforcement! So by saying that, [they’re showing this is not really focused on stopping terrorism.]
The parallel construction is a means to an end. And what is the end? Complete dismantlement of due process. We choose to go after who we decide is a threat.
There is no bar … Any of the rights which are enumerated, in the Bill of Rights in particular, which are created for people … just forget it; it doesn’t apply. [Sadly, he’s right.]
To me, the behavior – in terms of how they go about the abuse of the system – speaks volumes as to how far we’ve departed not just from the rule of law but from the Grand Experiment called the Constitution. Nothing was supposed to be above it … no president, no congress, no government agency.
WASHINGTON’S BLOG: Even in times of war?
THOMAS DRAKE: I’ve heard it said that “the Constitution is not a suicide pact.” But that’s a hyperbolic response.
In fact, I believe our system of government is strongest when it is under the greatest pressures and the greatest threats. That’s when you actually exercise who we are.
And it’s not this either/or … that it’s only national security and all else pales.
And so – when in doubt – we always err on the side of national security … when in fact, we’re losing both. We’re losing the very essence of who we are – in terms of the Great Experiment – and we’re actually making ourselves even more insecure as a result.
But then, [mass surveillance is really geared towards] protecting power. There is the whole thing about “yeah, it’s okay, except when it involves those in power.”
The Stasi ultimately violated [their people’s rights] – over many decades, they were the prime example of violating the privacy of people – to protect the sovereignty of the state. The sovereignty of the state reigns supreme.
Well, if the sovereignty of the state reigns supreme, what does that make us? That means we’re no longer citizens with rights … we’re simply turned into subjects of the state. And subject to the state.
“Collect it all, know it all” [the NSA’s model] is actually the Stasi model. It’s not just know everything; we have to be able to keep everything that we want to know, even if we don’t know it yet.
It’s a collect it all first mentality … and then we’ll get to know it all. I call it “feeding the beast”.
I keep shuddering because I’m intimately familiar with the East German surveillance state mentality.
We have a significant element of our government in league with corporations and other unelected officials who’ve decided that the Constitution is essentially null and void and national security reigns supreme. National security is the new state religion.
And they love the power. They love the secrecy. And they want to protect it. They’ve got a lot at stake.
Frederick Douglass was right – and I’m paragraphing him – “Power does not yield willingly”. That kind of power, in particular, does not yield willingly.
Lord Acton was right that power does tend to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. So what if you combine that with absolute secrecy? Or enough secrecy … or an expanding secrecy?
WASHINGTON’S BLOG: What about “pre-crime” surveillance?
[Snowden has said that the NSA is engaging in pre-crime surveillance. Drake himself was the victim of the use of mass NSA surveillance to go after people it doesn’t like … and to use false “evidence” to frame someone. Specifically, the government indicted Drake on numerous counts of “espionage” … claiming – after he blew the whistle on NSA corruption and lawlessness – that unclassified documents which he took were classified. Stunningly, the government classified some of the documents after-the-fact in an attempt to frame Drake.]
THOMAS DRAKE: This whole pre-crime thing was played out with me and [NSA whistleblower Bill Binney] and others.
Because – once you target, you will find what you’re [looking for]. Because some have argued, “Give me 7 pieces of evidence on anybody and I’ll find a charge.” [Here’s what he means.]
It’s a pre-crime mentality …
Everybody’s suspicious. And if I decide you’re suspicious enough, or that you’ve turned into a threat … then guess what? I’ve got more than enough evidence to frame you. It doesn’t even matter if the evidence is true. It’s just evidence.
It’s obvious that Snowden really focused on what happened to me and Bill [Binney; and so Snowden went into hiding after blowing the whistle].
I was “data framed”.
WASHINGTON’S BLOG: And when the NSA framed you, it wasn’t just that they claimed you took classified documents – that actually were never classified – did they frame you in other ways?
THOMAS DRAKE: Yes. They went to the ends of the earth. It’s the ultimate prosecutorial technique: When all else fails, it’s character assassination.
And that can take many forms. You shoot the messenger to avoid the message.
They charged me in a way that I would not have any public interest defense or First Amendment defense.
One of the things they had in the secret indictment I was charged with conspiracy with others against the United States of America. Pretty serious charge. That goes beyond espionage.
They alleged that I met – in conspiracy – and they alleged that it was “proved”.
It was President’s Day in February 2007. It was my day off, and we met at lunch. And we were meeting to talk as to whether it was possible to use technology to detect medicare fraud. And there were several other people there.
And the government conveniently [omitted important facts]. You know those old Soviet pictures where they just conveniently airbrush people out they don’t want anymore? That’s what they did here. They just conveniently left out the fact of who else was at this meeting. And simply said that it was a conspiracy.
And they removed the evidence from my home, after we got raided. How convenient is that?
When the first 9/11 investigation was launched – in early 2002 – the Saxby Chambliss inquiry (and I also testified to the Congressional Inquiry on 9/11) – NSA in response to that Saxby Chambliss subcommittee meeting, set aside the Leadership Room at NSA (basically our briefing room for the Signals Intelligence Director). And they had a bunch of computers set up, and they air gapped it [i.e. disconnected computers from the Internet in order to make sure know one could see what they were doing], and they called it the “War Room”.
I was faced with evidence by the FBI claiming, “you were in a conspiracy with others against the United States and you set up a war room.”
That was completely false! There was a war room. But I didn’t set it up. [It has now been conclusively proven that the “War Room” was set up by NSA chief Hayden – not Drake – to contest claims that NSA dropped the ball on 9/11. Moreover, Drake has explained that Hayden believed he was at “war” with Congress … and the press. In other words, it was the NSA chief – and not Drake – who was in a conspiracy against the Constitution and American values.]