The primary source for this essay is the current piece on PBS Frontline titled, "The United States of Secrets". It's the best, most detailed rendition that I've seen of how-why-where-when the Fed Gov't launched (via the NSA) its unconstitutional (& thus illegal), warrantless program of mass surveillance of Americans. It also includes many interview clips with several people formerly in the Gov't who attempted to expose what the NSA called "The Program". They tried first through proper Gov't channels, and when they were ignored, one of them became a whistleblower. That was Tom Drake.
Mr. Drake was a dedicated NSA senior executive. So was Mr. Edward Loomis... and there were some others... William Binney, J. Kirk Wiebe, etc. They were appalled at what the Fed Gov't was undertaking. Before getting into that, though, let's back up a bit.
The Program was conceived immediately after 9-11. Michael Hayden, the Head of the NSA, was told by Bush-Cheney to come up with a Program to prevent another 9-11 attack. Essentially he also was told to include tools that currently were not allowed by the Constitution or various Statutes. He set to work doing exactly that. It turns out that there was a program in existence prior to 9-11 that could monitor just about anyone..."ThinThread". It had automatic, electronic"privacy protections" for American citizens. The NSA stripped out those protections, thus ensuring that when The Program eventually was used, it violated the Fourth Amendment. The justification by various Executive Branch, political appointee, puppet lawyers for its use was the Article 2 (of the Constitution) phrase, "Commander-in-Chief". [Luckily, not being an attorney, I have some common sense and realize that the phrase cited does not negate other parts of the Constitution. I think most non-puppet people know the same thing.] By the summer of 2002, The Program was in full swing... doing something that never before had been allowed--- surveilling (without a proper warrant) American citizens, our phone calls, emails, financial transactions, credit card use, etc. Literally TRILLIONS of individual bits of data.
Drake and the others were kept out of the secret loop at the NSA regarding The Program, but eventually it was leaked to them that their ThinThread Program had been altered and was being used in an illegal manner. In addition, the major phone companies in the USA were turning over customer phone call records to the NSA. Apparently, these words from the Fourth Amendment are not understood by the Executive Branch: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, PAPERS, and EFFECTS..." (emphasis added). [In actual fact, I believe those words are understood by the Feds; they had/have another agenda--- expansion of Power in the U.S. World Domination Game, what Brzezinski once called "American Primacy and its Geostrategic Imperatives". From their perspective, 9-11 was a fortuitous excuse to run amok.]
Bill Binney, getting nowhere in the NSA with his concerns met with Diane Ruark, a top Congressional Staffer with 17 years of experience in the Intelligence field. A "Conservative" Republican, Ruark nonetheless was extremely concerned that the NSA had "gone rogue". She launched a campaign to inform Congress. Of course, by then it was too late--- the White House already had brought Congress on board. Oversight of the NSA was basically dead. Porter Goss was Ruark's boss; he sent her to Michael Hayden, NSA Head. He basically evaded her questions, but in a politically incorrect manner, she persisted. Finally he essentially told her to mind her own business because he had authority for The Program from the highest level (the "Commander-in-Chief"). Keep in mind that she was on the Congressional Committee for Intelligence OVERSIGHT. Checks and Balances in our Gov't, for all intents and purposes, were gone.
A few attorneys in the Executive Branch opposed The Program due to its unconstitutionality. They basically were thrown under the bus, so to speak. The Program grew, despite the fact that the Justice Dept. determined part of it to be illegal. Because I don't have the time for all the essential details, I highly recommend that people watch the Frontline piece. It is a feature-length film, but fascinating and well worth the watch.
Eventually, some knowledge of The Program reached the public. Bush and Hayden were pretty much forced to say something publicly. Both were deceitful; only a tiny part of the operation was justified... the part dealing with specific terrorist suspects. The public was propagandized. Bush eventually lied about warrantless surveillance of innocent Americans by an agency forbidden to spy on Americans. A couple of dissidents in the Gov't attempted to get the story published in the New York Times. Despite what the Right Wing in the USA thinks, the Times often kow-tows to the Feds. They did.
A year later, a reporter essentially forced (see the film) the Times to reconsider. Bush and Hayden tried to intervene; they were unsuccessful. The story was published in December, 2005. It "shocked the world", according to one commentator. Bush again went public and again was deceitful about The Program; nothing was said about monitoring trillions of emails, phone calls, etc. Hayden lied, saying, "Not a single employee of the NSA has expressed any concerns about...blah-blah-blah.". [Hayden is known as a masterful propagandist... evasive, deceitful, and totally loyal to the Institution.]
Enter Tom Drake. After four years of exhausting all in-house means of expressing concern, he contacted The Baltimore Sun and blew the whistle...anonymously. All the documents he used were UNCLASSIFIED. USA Today published another leak from a different whistleblower. The Times came out with another story. Cheney went crazy, that is, crazier than his usual. He was determined to stop the leakers (of unclassified info). A massive manhunt was launched by the FBI and it was led by Alberto Gonzales, former White House Counsel and then currently the Attorney General. Long story short, the FBI raided the homes of several people (Binney, Wiebe, Ruark, Loomis, etc., pretty much destroying their careers), but found nothing. They finally, six months later, got around to the home of Tom Drake. They seized a trove of UNCLASSIFIED documents, and he was charged under the Espionage Act. He faced possibly life in prison... for exposing Gov't unlawfulness. The seized documents were altered... "unclassified" was crossed out and they were marked "secret".
As the investigation proceeded, the Govt's cases began to fall apart. In 2008, enter Barack Obama. "No more secrecy!" Another quote: "The most transparent government [what his Administration, if elected, will be]". "Whistleblowers are good for government; they will be protected by my Administration [if elected]." "No more illegal wiretapping of American citizens [if elected]." Obama becomes President. He continues The Program. Prior to that, though, Bush reverses himself and decides he needs Congress to make The Program permanent. His Administration pushes through an Amendment to the FISA law. He claims it's "reform", but Intelligence insiders know that it gives the NSA unprecedented powers. The Program is expanded, made worse from the standpoint of the Constitution. The Amendment Bill had to be read extremely closely in order to figure out exactly what it said. Insiders expressed the opinion that Congress had little clue as to what the Bill really said. [Even if they had understood it, politicians seem to count on Americans being unaware of the fact that no law supercedes the U.S. Constitution. The Fourth Amendment cannot be negated by any Act of Congress.]
Senator Obama supported the Amendment. So even before he was elected President, the public should have had a clue that he was, at the very least, insincere in his campaign rhetoric concerning wiretapping (with no probable cause) of Americans. At most, he was lying.
President Obama's Administration continued the case against Tom Drake. So much for protection of whistleblowers. Drake's career was over, his finances were decimated (because of legal defense expense), his life more or less trashed. To get the whole thing over with, he pled guilty to a misdemeanor (they never had any espionage case) and received a minor fine and community service.
The Program continues to this day... a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment, and "justified" by a law. In the bizarro world of DC, apparently laws do supercede the Supreme Law of the Land. Amazing.
Who cares? Why is any of this important to Americans, especially non-political Americans. Here's one reason why: the whole scenario is Soft Fascism. It violates our Constitution and our Rights. It has been implemented by both major political parties, and there's little reason to believe that more of our Rights won't be trashed down the line somewhere. As Lord Acton said long ago, "Power corrupts, and...".
Finally, our Gov't is doing this worldwide. Particular Snowden documents have revealed that the NSA is even spying on the economic meetings of our allies. That has nothing at all to do with terrorism. We're losing any reputation we ever had as a great nation. Worse, our Govt's NeoImperialistic methods are making enemies of people who once admired our country. In their attempts to dominate the world, our Gov't is over-reaching... not only making enemies, but bankrupting us in the process.
I hope many of you watch the Frontline piece. The content should inform and disturb you. In any case, I salute Tom Drake and the other people in the film who tried, at great personal cost, to wake up both Congress and the public to our Govt's grossly unlawful activities. Kudos to you all. The same praise goes to Edward Snowden. His story is in Part Two of the film.