Three former NSA officials, who were previously targeted by the federal government for leaking details about the NSA’s domestic spying program, have resurfaced to provide evidence in a lawsuit against the agency.
The three men — William E. Binney, Thomas A. Drake and J. Kirk Wiebe — filed a legal motion on July 2 as part of the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s lawsuit Jewel v NSA. According to the EFF, a San Francisco-based digital civil liberties group, the case is aimed toward ending “the NSA’s dragnet surveillance of millions of Americans and holding accountable the government officials who illegally authorized it.”
The case, originally filed in 2008, was spurred by evidence provided by former AT&T telecommunications technician Mark Klein that showed the NSA had routed copies of Internet traffic through a secret NSA-controlled room at an AT&T facility in San Francisco.
The NSA, originally tasked with monitoring foreign electronic communications, launched the program to monitor the electronic communications of Americans in an effort to catch terrorists.
The Obama administration asked for the case to be dismissed in 2009 on the grounds that “state secrets” would be devulged if it were litigated, but the 9th U.S. Circut Court of Appeals ruled in December 2011 that the case would proceed.
Binney, Drake and Wiebe were originally accused by the federal government of allegedly leaking information about the program to the New York Times, and for going to House Intelligence Committee staffer Diane Roark with information about the NSA’s domestic spying program, called the Trailblazer Project.
Drake had also leaked documents about Trailblazer to Baltimore Sun reporter Siobhan Gorman, who later published a series of articles on the project.
The homes of Roark, Binney and Wiebe were raided by the FBI, and Binney claimed he had been held at gun point. Only Drake was charged, however, and indicted under the Espionage Act of 1917 for his whistleblower activities. In 2007 the espionage charges were dropped, and Drake pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for using the NSA’s computer systems to print the documents he leaked
Drake and Wiebe, in their “declaration in support of plaintiff’s motion,” said that NSA policy changed with regards to domestic spying after the attacks September 11, 2001.
“The NSA’s new approach was that the President had the authority to override FISA and the Bill of Rights, and the NSA worked under the authority of the President,” said Drake. “The new mantra to intercepting was to ‘just get it’ regardless of the law.”
The NSA does not have the technical capability to search communications in real-time, Drake and Wiebe said, but it does have the capabilities to capture data and review it at a later time in a process similar to a Google search.
“Given a central database, the question becomes how the NSA and other federal agencies (FBI, CIA, Homeland Security, etc.) use it,” said Drake. “The data is searchable and available. There is no effective technical oversight by Congress or the courts. It is seductively enticing to ignore the law.”
He also stated that he was not the source of the New York Times leak.
EFF’s aims for Jewel v. NSA are also to hold “former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney, Cheney’s former chief of staff David Addington, former Attorney General and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez, and other individuals who ordered or participated in the warrantless domestic surveillance of innocent Americans accountable.”
Both Cindy Cohn, the EEF’s legal director, and senior staff attorney Lee Tien said they were pleased that their case could move forward, and that their case would be now aided by former NSA officials to confirm the basic facts that have already been widely reported.
“It’s time for Americans to have their day in court and for a judge to rule on the legality of this massive surveillance,” said Tien in a statement.
The NSA did not respond to The Daily Caller’s request for comment by the time of publication.