from the jury-trial-request-will-never-be-obliged,-that’s-for-sure dept
Thomas Drake, Diane Roark, Ed Loomis, J. Kirk Wiebe and William Binney have filed a civil rights lawsuit against the NSA, FBI, DOJ, Michael Hayden, Keith Alexander, Chris Inglis, Robert Mueller and a handful of others. They will be represented by Larry Klayman, who has some experience suing intelligence agencies.
The claims arise from the government’s treatment of these whistleblowers after they started making noise about the NSA’s surveillance programs. More specifically, the lawsuit points to the short-lived internet surveillance program THINTHREAD, which was ignored and abandoned in favor of something more expensive, but less protective of Americans’ communications.
Plaintiffs worked in various roles on developing and perfecting a candidate program called THINTHREAD which was capable of performing the technical work desired by the NSA for surveillance of the internet efficiently, effectively, and at very low cost.
THINTHREAD was put into operation successfully but only on a demonstration basis. It was approved to demonstrate that it worked, but not officially commissioned for actual operational use.
Despite the Plaintiffs demonstrating that THINTHREAD actually worked, the NSA ignored THINTHREAD as a candidate for performing the desired surveillance of the internet and telephone communications, because THINTHREAD was inexpensive and highly effective, yet Lt. General Michael Hayden had made a corporate decision to “buy” externally rather than “build” internally the solution deemed necessary to harvest internet data.
$4 billion went into another program called TRAILBLAZER (THINTHREAD’s internal development cost, by contrast, was only $4 MILLION), along with five years of development. In the end, TRAILBLAZER never worked properly and was abandoned by the NSA in 2006.
This wasteful “funneling” of funds to preferred government contractors was reported to the Dept. of Defense by four of the whistleblowers, under the heading of waste, fraud and misuse of taxpayers’ money. The DoD wasn’t happy. It issued a scathing internal report. But the NSA wasn’t interested in having its faults pointed out. It sent the DOJ after the whistleblowers, using an unrelated leak of information about the NSA’s expansive domestic surveillance programs to the New York Times as the impetus for a series of raids.
According to the filing, the raids were retaliatory. The government had already determined the plaintiffs had nothing to do with the leaks reported on by the New York Times. And it used faulty affidavits to justify the corresponding raids.
In fact, the affidavit for the search warrants are themselves based upon an illegal, warrantless phone tap and refer to a conversation illegally intercepted between Plaintiff Roark and Plaintiff William Binney, although misrepresenting the call’s contents. Further, the ultimate pretext for the search, a paper describing THINTHREAD at a high level that Binney had given the FBI, was falsely claimed by NSA to be classified. Thus, the search warrant affidavit is not only false but illegal.
The lawsuit also attempts to use the breadth and reach of known surveillance programs as proof the government knew the whistleblowers had nothing to do with the NYT leak.
Moreover, as later revealed by Edward Snowden, the NSA was even then, with the assistance of cooperating telephone and telecommunications companies, conducting mass interception and surveillance of all telephone calls within the domestic United States for the very purpose – at least so they claimed – of detecting both external and internal threats against the national security of the United States.
Therefore, through those phone and internet records, the Defendants had actual evidence at the time of the false affidavit and retaliatory searches and seizures that none of the Plaintiffs had communicated with the The New York Times or other journalists, except that Plaintiff Drake on his own had spoken confidentially with regard to public and /or unclassified information to the Baltimore Sun.
The end result of the FBI, NSA and DOJ’s actions in response to whistleblowing (largely performed through proper channels) is a host of alleged civil liberties violations and other abuses, starting with the violation of 1998’s Whistleblower Protection Act. From there, the whistleblowers allege violations of their First, Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights, along with malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress and abuse of process.
It will be interesting to see where this goes. The government likely won’t be able to dismiss the suit quickly, but the plaintiffs are going to run into a ton of immunity claims that will be buttressed by invocations of national security concerns. Their lawyer — Larry Klayman — hasoccasionally displayed his inability to distinguish between actionable claims and conspiracy theories, a tendency that doesn’t improve the plaintiffs’ chances of succeeding. But of all the outcomes I imagined for the stories of Drake, Binney, et al, taking these agencies on directly in federal court wasn’t one of them.