Bill Binney resigned from the NSA in October 2001, after 30 years with the agency where he was viewed as one of their best analysts: he quit because he believed that Bush-appointed leaders in the Agency had chosen to respond to the challenge of electronic communications by building out illegal, indiscriminate mass-surveillance programs that left the country vulnerable to terrorists while diverting billions to private contractors with political connections.
After his resignation, Binney and his fellow whistleblowers faced retaliation from the NSA, as the agency prevented him from getting work as a private intelligence contractor and eventually staged a guns-drawn dawn raid on his home.
Binney has been a sharp, articulate, deeply knowledgeable critic of mass electronic surveillance ever since, refusing to be intimidated by the NSA despite the risks to himself.
In "A Good American," a new documentary that goes into widespread release today, director Freidrich Moser tells Binney's story from his early days as an intelligence analyst during the Vietnam War to his service as a codebreaker during the Cold War to his visionary program for conducting electronic surveillance with an emphasis on privacy and the rule of law. Binney and his fellow whistleblowers tell the story of how General Michael Hayden, then head of the NSA, sidelined their proposals in favor of a multibillion-dollar boondoggle called Trailblazer, which collapsed without ever shipping -- and how Hayden and his team refused to allow NSA analysts to work in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, literally locking them out of the building while they plotted ways to shift the blame for intelligence failures and use the attacks to build private, well-funded permanent civil service empires.
Oliver Stone called it a "prequel to Snowden," and that's true in more ways than one. Snowden cited the persecution of Binney as part of his rationale for taking his concerns to the press, rather than NSA channels.
Moser's documentary is riveting, enraging, and beautifully crafted, and it tells an important story. You can watch it today.
A Good American
John Perry Barlow lived many lives: small-time Wyoming Republican operative (and regional campaign director for Dick Cheney!), junior lyricist for the Grateful Dead, father-figure to John Kennedy Jr, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, inspirational culture hero for the likes of Aaron Swartz and Ed Snowden (and, not incidentally, me), semi-successful biofuels entrepreneur... He died this year, shortly after completing his memoir Mother American Night, and many commenters have noted that Barlow comes across as a kind of counterculture cyberculture Zelig, present at so many pivotal moments in our culture, and that's true, but that's not what I got from my read of the book -- instead, I came to know someone I counted as a friend much better, and realized that every flaw and very virtue he exhibited in his interpersonal dealings stemmed from the flaws and virtues of his relationship with himself.
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