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NSA Whistleblowers Bill Binney and Thomas Drake Speak at WCU

NSA Whistleblowers Bill Binney and Thomas Drake, left to right.

After journalists began publishing articles based on the disclosures of National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden last June, an intense debate erupted over the balance between civil liberties and national security. On Wednesday, April 23, two prominent figures in the ongoing debate over constitutional privacy rights in the face of growing national security surveillance will speak at West Chester University.

National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblowers Bill Binney and Thomas Drake, both former executives with that agency, are featured in a dynamic moderated discussion on "Essential Voices for Accountability in the National Security Era." They will explore the challenges facing intelligence agency whistleblowers when they seek to expose wrongdoing and violations of law, and discuss the unconstitutional collection of personal data and the dangers associated with the increasing power of the national security state. The panel takes place Wednesday, April 23, from 12 to 2 p.m. in Sykes Student Union Theater, West Rosedale Avenue. It is free and open to the public.

The event is part of the Government Accountability Project's (GAP) "American Whistleblower Tour: Essential Voices for Accountability," which brings notable truth-tellers to universities nationwide. The panel is moderated by GAP National Security and Human Rights Counsel Kathleen McClellan and sponsored by GAP and the WCU College of Business and Public Affairs, and the WCU departments of Criminal Justice, Political Science, Public Policy and Administration, Computer Science, Philosophy, and Peace and Conflict Studies.


Bill Binney is a former NSA crypto-mathematician who worked for the agency for almost 40 years, leading a team of technical analysts to create a revolutionary information processing system called ThinThread that could efficiently and cost-effectively analyze massive amounts of information while protecting Americans' privacy. He spoke up when NSA leadership ignored ThinThread in favor of Trailblazer, a vastly more expensive, intrusive and (eventually) inoperable program. He blew the whistle to Congress on the mismanagement and waste of funds, but saw no change take place. In retaliation for communicating with oversight bodies, Binney was demoted to a different position. Shortly afterward, he retired but continued to take action despite increasing retaliation, including having his home raided by the FBI. Binney and his colleague J. Kirk Wiebe first revealed the NSA's massive domestic spying program, Stellar Wind, which intercepts domestic communications without protections for U.S. citizens.

Thomas Drake is a former senior executive with the NSA, an armed forces veteran, and served as a CIA analyst. While at the NSA, he blew the whistle on multi-billion-dollar programmatic fraud, waste and abuse; the critical loss and cover-up of 9/11 intelligence; and Stellar Wind’s dragnet electronic mass surveillance and data-mining, conducted on a vast scale by the NSA with the approval of the White House, after 9/11. Drake argued that this program violated the Constitution and eroded our civil liberties while weakening national security. In April 2010, he was charged by the Department of Justice with 10 felonies under the Espionage Act and faced 35 years in prison. All 10 original charges were dropped in July 2011 and Drake pled to a misdemeanor count of exceeding the authorized use of a government computer with no fine or prison time. He is the 2011 recipient of the Ridenhour Truth-Telling Prize, and with Jesselyn Radack the co-recipient of the 2011 Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence Award and the 2012 Hugh M. Hefner 1st Amendment Award.

Kathleen McClellan is GAP's National Security amd Human Rights Counsel. She supports national security and intelligence community whistleblowers, with a focus on the issues of torture, surveillance, excessive secrecy, and political discrimination. She has represented whistleblowers from the NSA, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Defense, and Department of Homeland Security, advocating for their interests in forums that include Offices of Inspectors General, the Merit System Protection Board, Office of Special Counsel and federal courts.