Inspector General (IG) Complainants J. Kirk Wiebe and William Binney React to Release of Report, Thomas Drake Served as Critical Material Witness During IG Investigation.

In response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests from GAP, Project on Government Oversight, and media outlets, yesterday, the Department of Defense (DoD) released a heavily redacted version of the December 15, 2004 Audit Report entitled “Requirements for the TRAILBLAZER And THINTHREAD Systems.”

The Report is the result of a years-long investigation launched after three former NSA officials (J. Kirk Wiebe, William Binney, and Ed Loomis) and a former congressional staffer (Diane Roark) filed a DoD Hotline Complaint alerting the IG to massive waste and mismanagement within the National Security Agency (NSA). Former senior NSA official Thomas Drake served as a material witness. GAP represents Wiebe, Binney, and Drake on whistleblower issues.

The whistleblowers asserted that the NSA had defrauded taxpayers and ignored urgent security needs by shelving a functioning program that included critical privacy protections for Americans (Thinthread) in favor of an undeveloped and significantly more costly venture that lacked privacy protections (Trailblazer).

In explaining the gravity of the Hotline complaint, former NSA official and complainant J. Kirk Wiebe said “In an agency tasked with the security of the American people, this kind of gross waste, abuse, and mismanagement can and does cost lives. Three thousand innocent souls were lost on 9/11, and such a national tragedy must never be permitted to happen again.”

The release of the partial Report wholly substantiates the whistleblowers’ assertions, stating that NSA management “may be developing a less capable . . . solution that will take longer and cost significantly more to develop.”

GAP Homeland Security and Human Rights Director Jesselyn Radack said of the Report: “The Report corroborates what Drake and the other complainants have said for almost ten years now: that NSA embarked upon a billion-dollar boondoggle at the expense of Americans’ privacy and security. It vindicates the whistleblowers.”

A critical conclusion from the IG Report is a reference to the Executive Summary, which stated that the NSA, “[d]isregarded solutions to urgent national security needs.” Former NSA official and complainant William Binney said, “The report substantiates our complaint. This is the first time the government has openly admitted that the NSA traded the security of the United States for money, which is exactly the grave concern we raised.”

The Report affords more than vindication. Wiebe said of the Report’s release: “The Report is confirmation of the incalculable loss of intelligence due to mismanagement of the acquisition process, and the malfeasance went on for years.” Trailblazer finally tanked in 2006, after almost five years of wasteful and misdirected spending.

While the Report’s release is commendable, the vast redactions keep much of the Report hidden from public view. Binney said of the redactions, “The massive level of redaction is a clear indication of how extremely devastating the Report is to the NSA.” Wiebe also weighed in on the number of redactions: “I am pleased some of the Report has been released, but extremely disappointed with the amount of redaction. The charging of gross mismanagement, waste, and fraud is not a matter of sources and methods.”

Reprisal Against Complainants and Drake

The Hotline complainants and witness Drake came forward to report NSA’s misconduct at great professional and personal risk. The Report noted several times that “Many people we interviewed asked not to be identified for fear of management reprisal.”

Those fears were more than credible; they were realized. Drake’s reward for using proper channels to participate in the IG investigation was a criminal indictment. Drake faced decades in prison for charges brought under the Espionage Act, until the Justice Department’s case against Drake imploded two weeks ago in the face of successive negative rulings in court and overwhelmingly critical media coverage. The newly-released Report reveals what the criminal prosecution of was really about: retribution.

Radack stated, “It is sadly ridiculous that Drake, the whistleblower, was facing decades in prison because the NSA wanted to conceal that it abandoned a functioning program for an undeveloped money pit.” Radack continued, “The Report substantiates the very whistleblower, Drake, that the Justice Department labeled a danger to national security when it indicted him in April 2010.”

The named Hotline complainants also became targets of a criminal investigation, the most notable retaliation against them came in the form of three simultaneous armed raids at their residences at the hands of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Their experiences were chronicled in The New Yorker last month.

Tom Drake Background

Drake is a former National Security Agency (NSA) employee who was facing criminal charges under the Espionage Act for retaining, not leaking, classified information about a data collection program that was costly, threatening to Americans’ privacy rights, and wholly undeveloped, despite the availability of a cost-effective, functional alternative that respected Americans’ privacy. He did everything by the book, raising concerns through official channels first — including senior NSA management, the Defense Department’s inspector general, and Congress. His concerns were ignored. Drake started, legally, communicating with a reporter — never sharing any classified information whatsoever. A series of articles exposed this billion-dollar affront to privacy rights.