BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A former NSA codebreaker reveals that more than a decade ago, he tried to expose government spying on every day Americans.
The Maryland man tells Mary Bubala he blew the whistle long before anyone heard of Edward Snowden—but no one would listen.
WJZ investigates his story and the price he paid.
September 11, 2001 was the day that changed everything. After the attack, the government vowed to find a more sophisticated way to uncover terrorists’ plots.
William Binney was called on to help. A mathematician and codebreaker for decades, Binney commuted from his home in Severn to the National Security Agency in Fort Meade to work on top secret projects.
“We would map the relationships of everybody in the world,” Binney said.
After 9/11, Binney and a small team created a computer program constantly scanning data from cell phones and emails aimed at finding terrorist activity.
“The idea was how can you look into terrabytes of data going by every minute and see what’s important in that data that you need to pull out to look at and analyze to figure out intentions, capabilities of potential enemies in the world,” he said.
But Binney soon became concerned that the government was spying on average Americans.
“The data that was being taken in was all about United States citizens,” he said. “They’re destroying our democracy is what they’re doing.”
Controversy about the tracking program went public earlier this year when another Maryland man, Edward Snowden, leaked classified documents. However, WJZ has learned Congress may have had a warning about this years ago. That’s when Binney says he first raised concerns his program had been turned against Americans.
“The government can’t admit a mistake,” Binney said. “They have to cover up everything.”
Binney resigned in protest—and that’s when his problems really started.
“That was 2007 when the FBI raided me,” he said. “They pushed their way in with guns drawn and pushed my son out of the way and came upstairs and pointed guns at my wife and me. They took our computers and all the electronic equipment we had.”
The government thinks Binney overstepped the boundaries and possibly put the country at risk by coming forward and exposing some of the things he thought were wrong.
“I think they’re violating the foundation of this country. The thing that makes this country strong are the rights and freedoms that we have in the Constitution,” he said.
But not everybody thinks the government has gone too far. Both presidents Bush and Obama have said the program is necessary and doesn’t violate citizens’ rights. Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger, a ranking member of the House intelligence committee, agrees.
“There’s not one incident I know of that there has been a person intentionally trying to look at anyone’s phone calls or emails. Not one,” Ruppersberger said.
Binney doesn’t buy it.
“I would say he doesn’t really know what NSA is doing because he doesn’t understand the technology or what it takes to find terrorists,” Ruppersberger said.
Binney says he thinks Edward Snowden did a great public service by forcing NSA surveillance into the spotlight.