George Knapp was joined by former senior executive of the NSA, Thomas Drake (related article), who discussed his decision to blow the whistle on the agency's Trailblazer Project and illegal spying operations, which led to his being charged under the Espionage Act. He explained that the Trailblazer Project was designed by the NSA to respond to the massive amount of new data being generated by the advent of the digital age. According to Drake, Trailblazer was launched in the Spring of 2000 and, following 9/11, generated billions of dollars for NSA contractors because it was seen as the "flagship program" for harnessing intelligence information, despite having numerous faults. Chillingly, he observed that corporate interests, which worked with the NSA, viewed 9/11 as a "gift," since they could reap massive profits from the War on Terror.
Drake revealed that his concerns with the NSA's conduct began when the agency rejected his proposal for an alternative spying program, known as "ThinThread," which was designed to safeguard the privacy of US citizens. Following that, his colleagues began to question why they were being tasked with spying on Americans using a "super top secret" program called "Stellar Wind." Drake's attempts to determine the legality of the program were thwarted by the NSA and he was subsequently told that the spying had been approved "by the White House" and to stop asking questions about it. In light of these unconstitutional actions, Drake served as a witness to Congressional and DoD investigations into NSA malfeasance, which led to his responsibilities with the agency being dramatically curtailed.
Following a revelatory New York Times article on NSA spying, the agency launched a massive investigation into finding the sources behind the story. Since Drake was privy to the secrets revealed in the article, he became a suspect and the target of intense surveillance "on a scale that I would never want any American to experience." Faced with no other outlet to hold the government accountable, Drake decided to contact the media with his story. This decision resulted in the government indicting him for ten crimes, including the felonious mishandling of classified documents. "I had become an enemy of the state," he declared, noting that the government planned to make an example of him to stop future whistleblowers. Ultimately, the case against Drake "collapsed under the weight of truth," when the government dropped all 10 counts and he accepted a plea deal for a "very minor misdemeanor."
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