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Bill Binney: “Things won't change until we put these people in jail” (repubblica.it)
264 points by bootload on Feb 13, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 57 comments

That was a pretty good interview. I read about Binney before Snowden and I think Snowden knew about him as well. That's why he had to get all that data out otherwise he would not be believed.

I remember Binney sort being painted as a crazy conspiracy lunatic.

It is interesting how he stood up to them but was afraid for his life for a bit there. Wonder if he knew of any cases of people being suicided on US soil by the US govt or just a general precaution. Wonder if anyone from that dept. would leak anything...

I'm really grateful that we have folks like Binney thinking about the bigger picture. It's not as though our government has not made mistakes in the past; during the Korean War for instance, we killed ~20% of the North Korean population [1], largely with napalm. That, in my humble opinion, is an unacceptable civilian casualty ratio. Binney is the kinda guy, were he around back then, who would have spoken up and said "This ain't right."

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civilian_casualty_ratio

I've watched Binney speak before and I sense very little personal remorse about his own involvement. Maybe it was just the times I caught his speeches, but he seemed to be a geek who never really stopped to think about what he was doing until it was too late.

He was one of the principal forces behind the "Five Eyes" agreement that "allows" for the end-run around our Constitutional protections, for example.

Still, I find 'purity' useless in the real world and it's important to have folks like Binney speaking out.

I think he comes across a little nuts in the interview but then I think, you'd have to be a little nuts to go up against those people.

The thing is he seemed even more nuts before Snowden. So few people took him seriously. I didn't, I only half believed him. But we found that indeed these programs exist and they do record everything and so on.

But Binney's story and motivations are a big ambiguous as well. He doesn't go into as much detail here but from another interview I read how he basically had his program and his proposal on how to do things, then at some point higher ups decided to go with contractors and use another approach, and also appropriated some of his code and his ideas (but without including him). He mentioned coming to work one morning and seeing a large amount of monitoring equipment (switches, servers?) being delivered but he wasn't told about it beforehand. And then he figured it out. So it is a bit of being back-stabbed at work as part of internal politics and not everything was purely ideological as he might make it seem.

Sadly, this will never happen and like so many gov documentaries that bring to light abuses by groups, people will be outraged and then life will happen.

I wish the FBI or relevant body could get their shit together and say "hey, we really should look into this and do something about it."


I agree. Even General Hayden complains about how ridiculously over-classified the US cyber warfare operations are.[0]

Why can't we have a well informed debate over the new cyber weapons that our government has developed? I didn't know about operations like Nitro Zeus until a few days ago. (That's where the US used software to infiltrate Iran's power grid, radio communications, surface to air missiles, etc. in preparation for war back in 2009). How are normal citizens supposed to understand the stakes when we can't even see most of the information? If they were able to do that attack back in 2009 I shudder to think of what they can do in 2017...


> Why can't we have a well informed debate over the new cyber weapons that our government has developed?

Because some of these new toys would be denied.

> How are normal citizens supposed to understand the stakes when we can't even see most of the information?

I'm just cynical enough to honestly believe that the answer is: "We're not."

Interesting conclusion:

"Would you advise young people to put their talents at the service of the NSA?"

"I am an advocate of infiltration: joining the ranks of those working and coming out through the ranks of the administration of that agency, whatever the agency may be: the CIA, the FBI, whatever. As long as you preserve your character and integrity, you do the right thing, and that is what we need: people doing the right thing. It's the only way to change things, in the end. The other way is to come from the outside and put them in jail".

Anyone else read the title and think "these people" were bankers?

We don't need to put the bankers in jail (though it would help). We just need to realize that we no longer need them. We have all the tools we need to have a Lyft of financial services. Banks are like premium horseshoeing services. Thanks but horses are a niche market now.

> Tom Drake took the software we had for ThinThread, basically after the NSA cancelled our programme, and ran it against the entire NSA database in February 2002. We found that all the data about the attack was in there, where they were going, who they were connecting with, actually even the date of the attack: 9/11.

I'll bet I could design a system to reveal the exact dates of terrorist attacks after they've happened too.

That's not what thinthread did, just because they tested it on past data, the entire point, if you have been listening at all to Drake or Binney, is that a good program gives you only the data you need, and makes the haystack smaller so you can find the correct data points before attack.

The entire SAIC program it was replaced with was a contractors wet dream but nothing but a million data firehouses shoved into a warehouse with no real deciphering capability, and it demonstrably and provably hurt and continues to hurt national security.

Hayden single handedly did more to damage national security by terminating thinthread than any single terrorist organization, full stop. Was it a panacea? No, of course not, but it would have been the correct thing to do, unless of course Binney and Drake are completely lying and the data this comment is based on is false.

So, when it's neither incompetence or malice, as most would claim of Hayden, fraud is the only option left. Of course, they aren't mutually exclusive.

I think the point was, the data was there but it needed to be identified, adding more data by spying more random people would not have increased the chance of this happening.

Yes, the point is that after every attack, the intelligence agencies push the narrative in the media that it wasn't their fault for not stopping the attack, but the problem was that they just didn't have enough spying powers.

And usually everyone takes this as fact, and the government ends up giving them more powers, because "they are the experts, and if they say they the problem was that they needed more spying powers, then it must be true."

People need to push back against this narrative, and show everyone the facts. And the facts are that mass surveillance can't stop terrorist attacks [1]. The attacks that are usually prevented are those where the agencies received some strong tips that those people were planning something, and only then the surveillance becomes effective. But they wouldn't need mass surveillance powers for that. They just need a warrant (a regular one).

[1] https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2006/03/data_mining_f...

That's not the narrative here. The narrative here is that they did have the tools they needed to identify the threat in advance, but for reasons basically of venal nest-feathering corruption those tools were not used, and so the attack proceeded unhindered.

You've only got Bill Binney's word for it, to be sure. But let's not lose sight of the matter at hand in the rush to make points which are strongly held but tangential.

Binney is currently saying mostly the right things. That isn't to say that his story is especially believable. His team of heroes developed a system that "would have worked", had it been used. Yet he also tells us it has been used quite a bit since then, only with all the human rights protections stripped out. It seems as though "terrorism" still happens? Also, in future, we ought to build fewer super-powerful surveillance machines with "To Violate the Constitution, Press This" buttons.

Unfortunately CALEA requires communications vendors to include that button: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communications_Assistance_fo...

I think he said that it didn't work because another feature that got changed was including all data, instead of relevant data.

If the system has facilities for classifying data by its "relevance", one would expect those to be used by those who fired Binney yet arranged for his system to be installed anyway. If the system relies on only "relevant data" ever being entered, then it's useless and always was.

I remember one of the main issues immediately post-9/11 was the fact that all the various agencies weren't sharing enough data. The NSA might have had this data but they weren't looking at it because it wasn't relevant to their goals at the time. Someone else might have been looking at those guys but didn't have any/relevant/actionable data. No one was sharing anything because of budget reasons, "Why waste my budget on someone else's investigation?"

All government agencies push that narrative. It's never their fault. They just need more power and a bigger budget.

There's only two fields that I can think of where failing gets you a promotion: government and banking. The latter is largely due to the involvement of government.

Edit: this only works for the upper echelons though. If a street level FBI agent screws up badly, they get reprimanded.

If anything this would drown the signal in more noise, right?

ThinThread existed before these events. It wasn't retro-engineered to highlight them.

ThinThread's the kind of program you want: Cost-effective, focused, productive, scoped to respect law and the privacy of non-actionable data as much as possible.

When the Bush Administration came in, they shit-canned it in order to push their own cost-overrunning, un-focused and all-consuming, non-productive and arguably actively counter-productive wet-dream of "total-awareness" and contractor enrichment. (Yes, there are reports of Cheney et al. specifically pushing this.)

Given this, combined with Bush's willful and apathetic disengagement from his intelligence and security responsibilities, responsibility for 9/11 can and should be hung around his neck, and malfeasance should be at least fully investigated and reported where it cannot be prosecuted.

Good people were railroaded to career death and attempted long-term imprisonment. The people who did this to them and furthermore screwed this country over, should be pursued with every legal measure and reported on with the minimum possible constraint by classification of the relevant information.

No kidding, everything is "obvious" after the fact.

The problem is that immediately before and even during, we don't know what the important parts are. Or worse, we have contradictory signals that throw off the analysis and lead investigators down dead ends.

But even then, we don't know what the dead ends are until the accompanying event doesn't happen.. and then persistent (and wrong) analysts will shift their analysis to match whatever event happened to be semi-close in date, location, etc.

My personal opinion about the weeks and months leading up to 9/11 is that the neocon Bush Administration wanted it to happen. That is not the same as orchestrating it, but they quashed certain investigations at certain times, made it hard for intelligence agencies and the FBI to do their jobs, etc. They did this because the "peace dividend" would have been upon us and they needed a new enemy to fight. There is too much money in military and security contracts to ever let the US actually wind down the machine. Or maybe they did it because the nation was on the cusp of a financial collapse due to the "dot com" collapse that was taking place. Either way, the reasons were economic.

For every privacy invading technology you see, I will show you a company that lobbied for it to exist. You want examples? Level III systems and those idiotic naked body scanners at the airports. The Real ID Act is another--nothing wrong with most state issued driver's licenses, they just weren't expensive enough.

If you want to be free then you have to accept certain dangers in life. It's not like the tech put in place is doing anything to make you safer, anyways--it's only purpose is to suck billions of dollars out of taxpayers and concentrate that wealth in the hands of those who know how to go out and force it in their direction. When we inevitably suffer more attacks, it's all "we did our best."

I hold out very little hope for any of this to change, but we as citizens need to keep resisting anyways. Gut some government agencies, cut the budgets, stop the revolving door of lobbyists.

ThinThread project was developed in the 90's and it was ended just three weeks before 9/11.

They didn't develop it after the fact.

From my reading of the ThinThread program we're not talking about a post-hoc analysis.

     Thinthread ...  was one of the first things
     Michael Hayden's NSA got rid of

     Was your programme, Thinthread, ready for 9/11?
     "Yes, actually it was ready in November 2000
So if you look at that, then ThinThread, was available to the NSA before 9/11 but canceled for (ostensibly) political, ideological, and possibly corrupt reasons. Maybe incompetence?

(Corrupt may be too strong, if there is a softer term like "crony-ist" or selfish / self-interest it might be more appropriate. But then, seeing the number of lives lost due to the failure to prevent 9/11, maybe corrupt isn't too strong at all)

     You have declared that after 9/11 you heard the 
     high echelons of the NSA saying: we can milk this
     cow for the next 15 years. What did they mean?
     "They meant: we can keep the money flowing for 
     the next 15 years to keep programs running. 
Though - if they are really willfully incompetent in order to keep funding their operation that certainly looks bad.

Reminds me of a James Comey quote on terrorism:

> As the Commissioner said, when we look back through our cases, in nearly every single terrorist case that we face in the United States, terrorism attacks in Chattanooga, terrorism attacks in San Bernardino, Ft. Hood, hatchet attack in Queens, when we look back through those cases, in nearly every single case, somebody saw something, somebody saw a turn, a change in behavior, either online or in person, and didn’t say something. That’s understandable in a way because there is a natural human tendency to write an innocent narrative over what we felt were the facts. Save yourself the trouble. He probably had a bad day. I guess I didn’t hear that right. Our request of the American people is don’t do that.

Someone hasn't heard of confirmation bias.

source: https://www.fbi.gov/news/speeches/standing-together-against-... (also really really terrible title)

I think there's also a very reasonable fear of making a false accusation - what if you're wrong, and it ruins the life of someone you're likely quite close to? Especially if an arrest is done very publicly, as it might be in the US, with SWAT kicking down their door, and a story in the news. Sure, the person might be released without charges, but that never gets the same attention as the initial arrest. When the persons name comes up in conversation there'll always be "isn't that the guy they arrested for maybe planning terrorism?". Who wants that guy for a colleague or neighbor?

>> who they were connecting with.

This is why you don't need blanket surveillance on your entire population. Many old hat NSA guys have stated repeatedly that its the connections that matter. With terrorists, you have to monitor the connections to foreign countries that sponsor terrorism, have active terror cells in them and are hostile to the US. Then again, maybe they really don't want to know the people plotting against us are some of our own supposed "allies"?

Had they done that, they could have easily predicted and probably prevented nearly every terrorist attack, including the 9/11 attacks. Blanket surveillance actually allows for more cover for terrorists and the ability to hide through obscurity.

Agreed. By claiming such things he sounds (to me at least) more like someone who felt out of favour on his job and left than an ethics champion.

An in depth interview w/ Bill Binney is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3owk7vEEOvs

> I hold out very little hope for any of this to change, but we as citizens need to keep resisting anyways. Gut some government agencies, cut the budgets, stop the revolving door of lobbyists.

I don't like this idea but I respect it. I might even support it. Problem is that evil people will use this sentiment and turn it around to say they want to cut taxes so these agencies have less money to spend which leads to smaller government. Evil people like Ronald Reagan have argued that with starve the beast and we know how that worked. Please do not support tax cuts in an effort to gut government agencies. If you want to gut government agencies, do so directly.

Partisan flamebait takes threads on partisan tangents. Please don't do that here.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13632981 and marked it off-topic.

"evil people like Ronald Reagan"

I guess it's true that every opinion exists, and they just need a person to have them.

Here's one on the front page https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13635593

> Reagan, just eight months into his first term in office, treated the strike as a challenge to his authority. By his deadline, August 5th, only thirteen hundred striking controllers had returned to their posts. The President made good on his threat, fired the truant eleven thousand three hundred and forty-five controllers, and banned them from federal employment for life. (Bill Clinton lifted the ban in 1993.)

Re https://archive.fo/FsZ01

To use the words of Marco Rubio as he talked about Obama, Reagan knew exactly what he was doing. He was not a well meaning idiot. There's been easy to much astroturfing and "correcting the records". I'm ashamed that people honestly believe he is one of our best presidents. I hope, with time, truth will prevail.

I doubt he was evil, but his economic policies did nothing to help the American people.

Ever heard of Nicaragua and Iran Contra?

Even if it can be largely attributed the Bush Sr, Reagan was still President and ultimately responsible.

The strikers banned for life?

You mustn't spend much time on US conspiracy forums

I might have a nonstandard interpretation of the word "mustn't". I have generally assumed that it means roughly "oughtn't" or "shouldn't", instead of fitting in any place where "must not" would go.

I don't know if my understanding is the common one, or if I just made up a rule by mistake that other people don't use.

Your understanding is the same as mine, and I had to read that sentence a couple times to figure out that "musn't" should really read "must not". So far as I know, "musn't" only means "should not" and is not a general replacement for all instances of "must not".

My intuition is different to yours: "mustn't" made perfectly good sense to me in that context. Just a data point.

The usage is correct, but very rare; I observe it more among non-native speakers, who generally are less intimately familiar with the farrago of special cases that constitutes so much of English usage rules in practice, including that which has "mustn't" by convention only used in the imperative mood.

What is all this? As a native English speaker, I view mustn't as a contraction of must not; other examples include cannot and can't, should not and shouldn't, and do not and don't.

So the usage of mustn't should be exactly the usage of must not because that's literally what it is.

"You must not spend time on US conspiracy forums."

"Must" is an imperative or a command. "Should" is a recommendation.

Long time after the fact, but this was my understanding of contractions also, and was my intended usage of "mustn't". English is a crazy language, especially when we all seem to have been shipped with different compilers.

I mean you're not wrong in the narrowly denotative sense, but there's a distinction to be made between the way words are defined and the way they're conventionally used. I'm describing my observation of the latter. (So are you! But you observe differently.)

I think I am unusually permissive about where I allow contractions. I'm always tickled by that E E Cummings poem that just barely pulls off a rhyme with "year" and "appear" in its last line, "...and April's where we're.".

In this case one suspects OP wanted both meanings...

Not that witty :P

Every movement produces its leaders.

The bubble has to be very small and strong for that opinion to seem fringe.

When will open-minded inquiries into 9/11 become non-taboo?

There has already been a thorough inquiry into 9/11 (https://www.9-11commission.gov/report/911Report.pdf).

If any of the conspiracies peddled since then had any credibility, Russia, Iran, and China would have been all over it. Get real.

About the same time as we find out more about Andy the German Strassmeir...

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