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While this page isn’t necessarily about computers, it does relate to cybersurveillance of Americans’ use of computers by their government, so it is of crucial importance to all of us.  It doesn’t discuss spies like Aldrich Ames, Robert Hanssen, John Walker or Jonathan Pollard, who were actual spies, because they didn’t “leak” information that the U.S. Government was spying on its citizens.

See also, Privacy, Privacy Laws, Hackers, Are You Being Watched?.

Over the years, many people have disclosed documents showing that the U.S. Government may have overstepped its boundaries by spying on U.S. citizens.  Whether you consider them heroes or traitors, they are famous for their actions:

Bradley Manning photoBradley Manning, a U.S. Army intelligence specialist who was arrested in May 2010 in Iraq, charged with suspicion of having passed classified material to Julian Assange (see below) to post on his Wikileaks website. He pled guilty to 10 of the 22 charges against him.  But the most serious charge, providing aid to enemies of the U.S., which could subject him to 20 years in prison, went to court martial trial at Ft. Meade Maryland on June 3, 2013.  On July 30, 2013 Judge Col. Denise Lind issued her verdict, finding that Manning did not aid the enemy nor was he guilty of unauthorized possession of information relating to national defense, but that he did violate the EspionagChelsea Manninge Act of 1917 by turning over some three-quarter million pages of alleged classified documents to Wikileaks, all of which could subject him to a maximum but unlikely sentence of 136 years in prison. At the conclusion of the sentencing phase of the hearing, on August 21, 2013, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for his violations.  He is now Chelsea Manning, having undergone sex change therapy (photo at right) and apparently the military is granting her the right to undergo the first transgender surgery in military prison history (probably at government or taxpayer expense).  She was also sentenced to 14 additional days sentence (in solitary,reduced by 7) in September 2016 for her attempted suicide when protesting the decision not to allow the surgery.   Sony has bought the movie rights to the story. UPDATE: President Obama commuted Manning’s  sentence by 28 years off of her 35 year sentence.  She has been imprisoned since 2010 and will be released on May 17, 2017.


Julian Assange photoJulian Assange, publisher of the Wikileaks website, an international online non-profit organization founded in 2006 which publishes secret information, news leaks and other classified media from anonymous sources.  In 2010, Wikileaks began publishing some of the 251,000 American diplomatic cables which it came to possess (53% unclassified, 40% confidential and 6% Secret) without permission. Although the U.S. government was considering his prosecution, no charges have been filed at this time.  Although he is an Australian national, he is currently living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, and has been since June 19, 2012, since Ecuador granted him political asylum. But it’s no picnic, as British police on guard outside the embassy have orders to arrest him should he ever step out.  In November 2013, it looked like the U.S. Justice Dept. decided not to prosecute Assange because (1) although he published classified documents, he didn’t actually leak them (Manning did) and (2) it would be impossible to prosecute him without similarly prosecuting U.S. news organizations and journalists, which they don’t want to do. In February 2016, a U.N. panel ruled that he had been arbitrarily detained and should be awarded compensation, but it unclear whether the Britain or Sweden will adopt those findings. 


Edward Snowden photoEdward Snowden admitted in June, 2013 that he made public (through The Washington Post and The Guardian newspapers, through reporters Glenn Greenwald and Loira Poitras) classified information disclosing that the NSA, through the PRISM program that was collecting massive information about U.S. citizens.  He obtained this information through his stated capacity as an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, which contracted for the NSA and CIA, although he claimed (in a May, 2014 interview with Peter Jennings) that he was, in fact, a CIA operative.  (It’s hard to believe that BAH, which makes some $1.3 billion from the U.S. Government each year can’t have better security than it does.)  He made the disclosures after leaving the U.S. and was on the run for weeks, hoping to land in a country without extradition to the U.S.  He had requested permanent asylumSnowden, et al in Brazil, but the U.S. rescinded his passport while he was in Russia, so he stayed there.    For quite some time, his life appeared to reprise Tom Hanks’ role in the movie “The Terminal,” as he lived in the Moscow Airport.  Eventually Russia offered him a 1 year asylum, which he accepted. His one year asylum expired on 7/31/14, and he was granted a 3 year extension, with the right to travel abroad.  In November, 2013 Congress rejected his plea for clemency. While neither Loira Poitras or her reporting partner Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian newspaper has been charged for their part in having received the (encrypted) documents from Snowden and disclosing their existence, David Miranda, a fellow Guardian reporter was detained at London’s Heathrow airport on August 18, 2013 under Schedule 7 of Britain’s Terrorism Act 2000, then later released. Photo at right:  Snowden (L), Laura Poitras (far Rt) and Glenn Greenwald (2nd fr Rt), the reporters from the Guardian who broke the story, and Poitras’ husband. Snowden started the ball rolling when he e-mailed Poitras as “Citizenfour,” which is also the title of Poitras’ 2014 movie about the revelations.

Daniel Ellsberg photoDaniel Ellsberg is a former U.S. Military analyst who, while employed by the Rand Corporation in 1971, released 7,000 pages of classified information to the NY Times known as the “Pentagon Papers”, which disclosed that the Pentagon’s and three presidents were well aware that the unpopular Vietnam war was unwinnable, but nevertheless lied to Congress about it.  Although he was tried as a criminal for espionage, a mistrial was declared against him because of evidence that the Nixon White House had agents break into Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office in a search for ways to discredit him.  Eventually most of the papers were declassified. 


Mark_Klein_photoMark Klein is a former AT&T technician who in 2006 leaked knowledge of AT&T’s cooperation with the NSA by establishing network hardware in several locations, including the now famous “Room 641A” in a building on  611 Folsom Street in San Francisco, the purpose of which was to monitor a massive amount of communications between American citizens and others.  He noticed that the door to this room had no handles or locks and, when tracing the cabling into and out of the room, determined that the NSA had installed a “splitter” which effectively copied the entire data feed from AT&T and simultaneously sent it to the government as well.


Thomas Drake photoThomas Drake, another NSA employee also blew the whistle on NSA surveillance abuse, particularly the Trailblazer Project (See William Binney, below).  He faced jail time for espionage, but the case fell apart in court, largely because the charges by the government were proven to be simply not valid.




William Binney photoWilliam Binney was a respected career intelligence official with the NSA when he revealed to the NY Times in 2005 that the NSA was wasting millions of dollars on Trailblazer, a warrantless eavesdropping system intended to analyze data carried on communications networks such as the Internet.  The software was part of the Stellar Wind project built in Bluffdale, Utah that he helped design, which was originally intended only for foreign espionage but in 2001 was converted to spying on U.S. citizens as well.  He was cleared of wrongdoing, but at a related trial, he claimed that the NSA had intercepted 20 trillion communications transactions of Americans, including phone calls, e-mails and other forms of data.  Binney had been the inventor of an alternate system named ThinThread, which was scrapped when Trailblazer was selected instead for the purpose of spying on U.S citizens’ communications.


Russ Tice Russell (“Russ”) D. Tice, a former intelligence analyst for the NSA, was one of the unnamed sources for a N.Y. Times report in December, 2005 that the NSA and DIA were engaged in unlawful and unconstitutional wiretaps on U.S. citizens, using Echelon.  His revelations preceded those of the more well known whistleblowers like William Binney, Thomas Drake and Mark Klein, above.  As  result of his disclosures, the NSA demanded that he undergo psychiatric evaluation and he was subpoenaed before a Grand Jury regarding his violations of federal law. [This brings to mind the news clips of Martha Mitchell (photo at right), then-Attorney General John Mitchell’s wife in the 1970s, who was chased by guys in white coats with hypodermic needles Martha Mitchellevery time she tried to tell reporters about the Watergate goings on.  Her somewhat intentional misdiagnosis of her perception of real events as delusional became known as the “Martha Mitchell effect”.]  At about the same time as Tice, Thomas Tamm, a former DoJ Office of Intelligence Policy and Review also assisted the N.Y. Times in its report about the warrantless NSA surveillance and eavesdropping on U.S. citizens without their knowledge.  He was investigated by DoJ but no charges were ever filed.

Did you know that the federal Whistleblower Protection Act does not apply to the intelligence community.  That they are exempt from the act as are the inspector generals, even the DoD IG?  There is, however, an Intelligence Community Whistle Blower Protection Act, but it provides nowhere the protection as that granted for other federal employees, only that the complaint be submitted to the DoJ BIG.  Also, that there is a National Security Whistle blowers Coalition, founded in 2004 (see Associations).

GENERAL OBSERVATION:  Despite all the bluster from the Government at the time these leaks occurred, there have been surprisingly few convictions of the persons making the disclosures, either because the laws don’t support the charges or the trials were botched.  Interestingly, according to the NY Times (7/20/13), in 2009 Director of National Intelligence Dennie C. Blair made a list of the number of government officials or employees who had been prosecuted for leaking national security secrets.  He found that, for the previous four years, 153 cases had been referred to the DoJ, but not one led to an indictment.  Apparently now the U.S. Government is trying to make up for lost time.
































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