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Friday, October 12, 2018
A new Q&A interview with NSA whistleblower Tom Drake
A new Q&A interview with NSA whistleblower Tom Drake
Here’s an update and fascinating new Q&Ainterview with National Security Agency whistleblower Thomas Drake.
We should remember that the U.S. government’s “national security” apparatus is eager to crush the brave few who expose the official lies that sustain illegal surveillance, fraud, corruption, and warfare. Whether or not the whistleblowers go to prison, a key official goal is to drive them close to the poverty line for the rest of their lives, deprived of pensions and rendered unemployable for all but low-paid jobs.
Thanks to supporters of the RootsAction Education Fund, several of the most selfless and high-impact whistleblowers are now getting back on their financial feet. But we must not fade away with our support.
During the first years of this decade, Tom Drake endured a legalistic siege that threatened to keep him in prison for the rest of his life. Although he ultimately prevailed in court, the government completely wrecked his personal finances.
-- The RootsAction Education Fund team ________________________
Days ago, Tom Drake wrote a message to RootsAction Education Fund supporters and responded to some questions. Here’s what he had to say:
Want to thank you all once again and am most grateful and appreciative for your continuing support as I continue to travel and speak out on a number of critical and contemporary core issues including privacy, digital surveillance, abuse of power and rise of autocratic governance and what I have coined the de-evolution of democracy that we face today (and well into tomorrow) in the U.S. and around the globe in our post 9/11 national security world.
I recently participated in a panel hosted by the Cato Institute in Washington, DC discussing 9/11 lessons learned and unlearned that was moderated by Pat Eddington.
9/11 is always a most difficult day for me, given that I am still very much burdened by the “what if” of history. I know that 9/11 was fully preventable and never should have happened as the government failed to keep almost 3,000 people out of harm’s way that very tragic day.
C-SPAN aired the panel live, and here is the link for all of you interested to view and consider what was discussed, with some Q&A with the audience at the end.
I am also scheduled to participate in an upcoming panel on national security and whistleblowers in New York City on 18 October. (If any one of you are in the area I invite you to attend. Here is the link for more information.)
I also agreed to answer a few questions posed to me by Norman Solomon, below, and encourage you all to respond (via email@example.com) with further questions and comments and any additional observations you may wish me to consider that I can address and discuss in a future email newsletter.
Q: A lot of Americans are concerned about the rise of authoritarian government in the U.S. To what extent are issues of surveillance directly related to such concerns?
The rise of autocracy and calls for a more authoritarian government raise real and very troubling concerns about the further abuse of surveillance to erode democracy and our precious rights and freedoms through the monitoring and targeting of dissenters, resisters and activists as well as political opponents and domestic enemies. Surveillance in the hands of authorities is about control and keeping track of people, and in the modern age of digital communications it is enormously tempting to use surveillance for “other” purposes that are far removed from keeping the nation safe.
Q: Do you think the NSA has significantly changed its domestic activities from the George W. Bush to Obama to Trump presidencies?
I do not. There is clearly a line of succession with respect to domestic surveillance from Bush to Obama and now under Trump. The government willfully violated the Constitution in secret under the banner of national security and the issuance of executive orders and “other” authorities right after 9/11 and put a mass surveillance regime in place protected and hidden by the deepest of state secrets. Several years later Congress passed legislation that effectively legalized what was unlawful, thereby normalizing surveillance and other violations of the Constitution. For example, the USA Freedom Act passed a few years ago under Obama was essentially a face-saving kabuki move that still gave the NSA and other national security agencies and authorities the ability to access vast amounts of data from the telecoms, simply by asking for it with some other changes that were bones tossed to appease the civil liberty advocates and organizations.
Q: What were the top priorities of NSA leaders that you observed from inside the agency?
The top priorities I observed from NSA leaders during my 6.5 years there as a senior executive were focused on protecting the institution, burying the secrets and covering up any possible or actual wrongdoing committed by NSA, while promoting massive programs that were largely outsourced to contractors.
Q: How would you rate overall media coverage of the NSA?
NSA is still too often misunderstood by much of the mainstream media press outlets, or they simply recycle talking points. In addition, using former heads of agencies as regular commentators who will more often than not simply protect the more secret institutions of government does not bode well for transparency and openness necessary in a democracy regarding the questionable activities and violations of law and the Constitution committed by their own former agencies.
Q: How would you rate overall media coverage of civil liberties?
I would rate overall media coverage a bit better than before, but still too often beholden to access press, five-minute sound bites, the addiction to celebrity and personalities as well as tribal partisanship. More independent press has emerged, but having a president of the U.S. call the press the enemy of the people is simply chilling and speaks of autocracy and authoritarianism as well as censorship and suppression.
Q: How would you describe the ties and oversight roles of the courts in relation to agencies like the NSA?
The courts have largely avoided the issues raised by the often hidden and secret actions of the national security centric agencies in the U.S. government until more recently during the latter years of the Obama and now the Trump administration. Certain lawsuits (including Jewel v NSA and others) were essentially given new life under Obama due to the Snowden revelations. Recent Supreme Court cases including the Jones and Carpenter cases have placed privacy and the 4th Amendment back in the limelight as indications of checks on the overreach and abuse of executive power, while also giving Congress notice for rolling back existing legislation that has given the executive additional power under the cover of national security. However, real oversight must come from Congress and that is sorely lacking as the oversight committees have devolved into largely serving as lapdogs of the national security establishment instead of their mandated watchdog roles.
Q: Overall, do you think Americans are too worried about government becoming repressive?
I believe a number of Americans are VERY concerned and worried about the government becoming more repressive. The trend lines are not good. On the other hand, many people are better informed about the dangers of democracy caught up in a dystopian drift that erodes our basic rights and freedoms. Once key freedoms and rights are eroded by a central government it is very difficult to get them back, let alone restore what was lost. Q: What would you recommend as some of the most important things that people can do to support civil liberties and constitutional freedoms?
It is critical that people as in “we the people” are the ultimate defense against the de-evolution of democracy. We are in this together and it is vitally important to act locally to make a difference while considering the long arc of history.
Right now, getting out and voting for candidates seeking office during this election season that align with the inalienable rights we all possess is key, while also supporting directly and indirectly efforts and campaigns that advocate action to preserve our rights and freedoms and highlight the abuse of power, no matter the source.
PS from the RootsAction Education Fund team:
Truth-telling can be inspirational. Another NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden, has said: “If there hadn’t been a Thomas Drake, there couldn’t have been an Edward Snowden.”
Meanwhile, Tom Drake remains deeply in financial debt. Ironically, we are in hisdebt -- morally, politically and ethically. We owe him so much because he stood up for civil liberties and human decency.
Let’s continue to help repay that debt to Tom Drake, who exposed extreme mass surveillance by the NSA.
Living in what is supposed to be a democracy, we get vital information because of the courage of whistleblowers.