The Conversation

The Turnkey Totalitarian State

Last year James Bamford wrote a lengthy story for Wired on the NSA's new data-mining operation being built in Utah. The report contained a number of eye-opening revelations but none more so than the conclusion of one former system designer who had worked for the NSA his entire life.

William Binney, who the Wired piece describes as a "crypto-mathematician largely responsible for automating the agency’s worldwide eavesdropping network," described in detail how the NSA continually set out to grab more data from people inside and outside the country:

the agency could have installed its tapping gear at the nation’s cable landing stations—the more than two dozen sites on the periphery of the US where fiber-optic cables come ashore. If it had taken that route, the NSA would have been able to limit its eavesdropping to just international communications, which at the time was all that was allowed under US law. Instead it chose to put the wiretapping rooms at key junction points throughout the country—large, windowless buildings known as switches—thus gaining access to not just international communications but also to most of the domestic traffic flowing through the US.

Binney left the NSA in 2001 because he felt the wiretapping by the NSA violated the Constitution. The article notes that Binney was hopeful Obama would make changes in the system, but was disappointed in that hope. In the article, Binney reaches this chilling conclusion:

Binney held his thumb and forefinger close together. “We are, like, that far from a turnkey totalitarian state,” he says.

It does make you wonder what might happen if the "mistakes" that were made at the IRS were to be made at the NSA. Would we even know if they had?


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