NSA Whistleblower: USA Freedom Act Will Not Go Far Enough To Protect Civil Liberties
Former NSA intelligence analyst and whistleblower Kirk Wiebe says that the NSA has lived a mostly unconstitutional existence, and that any oversight will require an independent group to have direct access to collected data
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
On Tuesday, protesters from all over the world are gathering to support reforms to mass surveillance. They are calling it the Daily Fight Back. Organizers say more than 4,000 organizations and websites have pledged to support the day of action.
This comes on the heels, of course, of leak after leak from Edward Snowden, who’s revealing how much the U.S. government is actually spying on its own citizens.
Now joining us to get into all this is Kirk Wiebe. He’s a former NSA senior intelligence analyst and an NSA whistleblower who worked for the NSA for more than 32 years.
Thanks so much for joining us, Kirk.
J. KIRK WIEBE, FMR. SENIOR INTELLIGENCE ANALYST, NSA: It’s good to be with you, Jessica.
DESVARIEUX: So, Kirk, a large part of this demonstration is calling for Congress to pass the USA Freedom Act, which would basically end the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records. Can you just give us some more details of what this bill entails? And what do you make of the legislation?
WIEBE: Jessica, it really–I have to be brutally honest here. It’s window dressing. There’s not much here to hang hopes on that we’re going to have an honestly brokered process here in terms of mass surveillance.
One of the features of this effort is to put an advocate in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, FISA court, if you will, to represent the rights of the people. That gives me little comfort. This is one individual who has to interpret what NSA tells them, and NSA is very capable of engaging in what we call technospeak, and I’m not sure anyone knows what they’re talking about sometimes. So I get minor comfort from that.
Stopping of bulk collection is a good step. That’s good.
Now, I have to see the details, because stopping the one and still allowing the other–I’m not sure what the other is and how NSA’s going to select targets from the data to pursue on a one-by-two-by-three basis in a narrowly focused way, how that’s going to work. We haven’t seen that language yet. But increased reviews, a advocate for privacy, this gives me little comfort.
You know, people don’t realize NSA has essentially operated illegally–and when I say that, I mean unconstitutionally–for 60 percent of its existence, since it was first formed, up to the present. In other words, it’s been far more legal than legal. And anyone who believes simple little window-dressing steps like this is going to make a difference is really going to be grossly disappointed, and we’re going to be right back in this mess again.
The only thing that’s going to fix this, Jessica, is direct access into NSA’s databases by an independent group of hackers, techie types, people like Snowden who know how to get into a network and look at things and verify that the data they’re collecting and what they’re doing with it complies with the laws of the Constitution of the United States.
DESVARIEUX: Also, Kirk, we should mention that this bill was proposed by Democratic Vermont senator Patrick Leahy and Wisconsin Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner. And Sensenbrenner, he was actually a big advocate for the Patriot Act. So now that he’s coming back and saying we need to be regulating the NSA and other surveillance tactics more, what do you make of this? Some people might see this as just very political, that if your party’s in power, civil liberties don’t matter, and if they’re not, then you should be really advocating for them.
WIEBE: Well, you’re absolutely right. And what–I would be hopeful if even one person in Congress of some stature and wisdom would arise and say, look–and I think maybe Rand Paul and a few others have said this–but the government has no right whatsoever to collect the data from innocent people. We have a process called probable cause under the Fourth Amendment that is dictated and followed by our judicial system. It’s the way we have done law for 200-plus years. That is what is right. And we must adhere to those principles, or, regardless of politics, somebody’s going to get into power and misuse this immensely powerful capability for their own political reasons.
Remember, that’s why we want to do it right. Trust is one thing. But just as Reagan told Gorbachev, we can trust, but we need to verify. Congress can trust, but it needs to verify that NSA’s doing what it says it’s doing.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. And we have groups from all different spectrums, the political spectrum, supporting this–right-wing groups, leftists. But I want to ask you, though, Kirk, about the real root issue here, ’cause you have those who argue that it’s essentially the U.S. government’s role in the world as a hegemon; being what is happening right now, we have to really change our policies and our role in the world. What do you make of that argument?
WIEBE: I don’t–we can still be that powerful source of justice, of helping people defend themselves from threat. We can still do that. And that’s a service we can provide to the world. But we have to do it honestly and we have to do it with integrity. And again I point to the Constitution and the Fourth Amendment. We cannot go looking at people’s information if we do not have probable cause, a suspicion that they are involved in wrongful behavior. It is wrong to do. And if we are to garner the support of the world, the respect of the world, we need to ensure we adhere to that principle.
DESVARIEUX: So if you believe that the U.S. should have that role of being the global leader, how could they be doing a better job of protecting civil liberties and protecting themselves from imminent attacks?
WIEBE: It goes to how NSA is actually doing the analysis process, in terms of its networks, databases, computers, how they’re aligned, and how they are using people to do the analytic job. I don’t think it’s very efficient, the way that it’s currently set up. It’s designed to find needles in haystacks.
And what we need is equipment that will find the needles for you and bring them to your attention. And this is possible in this modern day and age of IT, information technology. We call them business rules [incompr.] can tell through software, equipment, and systems to do certain things, and it can produce those things.
You know, all these communications that NSA’s collecting, Jessica, are not routed and handled and stamped and connected by people. It’s all done by machine, by computers, if you will. NSA has to make better use of their computers to find those needles than what it’s currently doing, and they’ll have a much more efficient process.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. Kirk Wiebe, thank you so much for joining us.
WIEBE: My pleasure.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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