Wednesday, May 14, 2014

"The Program" is the first part of the PBS Frontline "United States of Secrets"; how the FBI raided homes of many leakers

On Tuesday, May 13, 2014 PBS Frontline aired “The United States of Secrets: Part 1: The Program”, the first of a series about the NSA and Edward Snowden.  It ran two hours. The PBS link is here, and an LA Times review is here.   The film is available on YouTube now for $1.99 rental.

The film maintains that the NSA had been prohibited from doing warrantless domestic surveillance after Watergate, and that the rules were very strict and were followed.  The documentary recreates some of 9/11, and then shows how the Bush administration pressed to increase the NSA’s ability to intercept terrorist activity already in the US.  Remember, the administration had soft-pedaled some memos about Al Qaeda in August 2001, but it believed that the NSA could have intercepted the plot if it had a freer hand again.  

“We couldn’t connect the dots because we couldn’t collect the dots.”

The NSA started doing domestic surveillance, at least collecting metadata, of ordinary Americans.  I was not supposed to do this without the supervision of the secretive FISA court, but seemed to be collecting data on purely domestic activity while bypassing the FISA gatekeeping.

Gradually, a number of senior officials, mostly civilian, at the NSA became concerned.  One of them leaked a story to the press from a pay phone in a DC Metro station.  Stories appeared in the Baltimore Sun (the NSA is in Anne Arundel County, MD, which includes Annapolis, but Baltimore is closer to it than DC) and the New York Times. 

In May 2007, the FBI raided homes of several former and current NSA officials to look for leaks, confiscating computers and personal papers. On Nov. 28, 2007 it raided the home of an official named Thomas Drake, who recounts being threatened with decades in prison and going broke defending himself, before all my one misdemeanor charge was dropped during the Obama administration. 

Obama has not been “lenient” about leaks, however, despite his embracing of free speech for whistleblowers. 

The film starts with a brief account of meetings in Hong Kong by Gleen Greenwald with Edward Snowden, and then resumes the Snowden narrative at the very end.  It mentions that Snowden, who looks very boyish at 30, had intended a military career but broke both legs in training.   

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