Should the NSA be Dismantled?
Thomas Drake knows the power of the National Security Agency all too well. He was once a top NSA executive before he told a reporter about fraud, mismanagement and massive cost overruns at its flagship digital intelligence program, as well as privacy violations in its top secret surveillance efforts. He did this only after he tried and failed to get NSA and Pentagon inspectors and Congress to act. The Justice Department subsequently charged him under a 1917 espionage statute, but dropped the charge when not a scrap of evidence linked him to spying or a foreign power. The judge in the case called the prosecution “unconscionable.”
Today Drake, 56, has been stripped of his security clearances, and he works at a local Apple store in suburban Washington, D.C. Vocativ’s Jeff Stein caught up with onetime spy and software expert last week to ask what he thought about the revelations of another NSA whistle-blower: Edward Snowden.
It was recently revealed that in a classified hearing in 2009, one of our most conservative federal judges, Reggie Walton, who sits on the court that approves NSA surveillance applications, questioned whether it’s worth collecting billions of Americans’ emails to get a few flimsy leads on terrorists. Is it time for big changes at the top of NSA?
I wish it were that simple—just letting go of some people. There’s a cult and culture of secrecy, corruption, cover-up, obstruction and obfuscation deeply embedded there. So it’s not just about removing some names off the back of the deck chairs and painting over them with new ones—we need to dismantle [the] NSA and start all over from the ground up with a greatly reduced agency that is focused on understanding the world instead of turning everything into a surveillance feed.
That’s pretty radical.
You know, there’s no set term for an NSA director, but historically it’s been three or four years. Hayden was there six years before going to the DNI [Director of National Intelligence], then CIA. Alexander has been there eight years. It’s time to go. At a minimum, you need to go five layers deep. Fire the director, his deputy director, his chief of staff, and the directors and chiefs of staff of all directorates.
You also need to clean out the enablers of the NSA above Alexander’s pay grade as well—starting with the DNI [James Clapper], who’s a company man through and through.
To say there would be tremendous opposition to this would be a vast understatement.
Indeed. The intelligence complex has a lot to cover up and they will not willingly let go of their dark-side power and power over others. You also have to remember that much of the intelligence work at NSA is contracted out, so a massive number of jobs are at stake, especially for a budget that exceeds $10 billion a year. It would be a big challenge to reduce that by any significant degree.
And exactly who is going to do that?
It would take extreme leadership to do so, and that kind of leadership is sorely lacking in Washington, D.C., these days. But it starts with the president. And probably ends with him too.