Mass-surveillance ‘undermines security’ and failed to stop 9/11 attacks, says ex-NSA officer

David bisson
David Bisson

Uk parliament committee

According to a former officer at the United States National Security Agency (NSA), bulk data collection has resulted in the loss of life before, and it will lead to more lives lost in the future.

Draft billOn Wednesday, William Binney, former director of the NSA’s Analytic Service Office, is scheduled to present evidence before the UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on the Draft Investigatory Powers (IP) bill.

The Investigatory Powers bill, which was originally announced back in November by Home Secretary Theresa May, legitimizes the bulk collection of data:

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“Access to bulk data is crucial to monitor known and high-priority threats but is also a vital tool in discovering new targets and identifying emerging threats.”

Wired reports that the bill also enables the UK government to hack into phones and other devices en-masse as well as protect military police communications from interception. (Be sure to read guest contributor Philip Le Riche’s assessment of the draft bill here.)

The theory is that by collecting so much information, bulk data collection will augment the United Kingdom’s security.


But the opposite is actually the case, Binney plans to argue:

“Bulk data over-collection from internet and telephony networks undermines security and has consistently resulted in loss of life in my country and elsewhere, from the 9/11 attacks to date.”

September 11 2001An investigation following the 9/11 attacks revealed that terrorist communications had indeed been collected by U.S. analysts but had not been examined in time.

“Britain should not go further down this road and risk making the same mistakes as my country did, or they will end up perpetuating the loss of life.”

That is not to say Binney is against the gathering of intelligence. On the contrary, as he has explained in the past, the former NSA officer is expected to advocate for a form of “smart collection” that uses “selectors” to save on time and resources.

“Smart selection is smart collection. It’s essential to do it properly. Sessionised data is in fact highly intelligible, and can be automatically sorted in milliseconds or even less. You have to lose as much data and content as you can as quickly as you can, so as to stay focused on the communications that might really matter.”

This model of selective intelligence gathering, Binney will likely observe, could also help protect the communications of lawyers, journalists, and even MPs from being intercepted unless some specific authorization has been made, notes The Guardian.

The United States clearly made some mistakes with regards to intelligence gathering preceding and immediately following the 9/11 attacks.

We can only hope that Binney and others like him can convince the world to learn from these missteps and steer the future of data collection in a different direction.

Further reading: The Draft Investigatory Powers Bill – what it actually says.

David Bisson is an infosec news junkie and security journalist. He works as Contributing Editor for Graham Cluley Security News and Associate Editor for Tripwire's "The State of Security" blog.

11 comments on “Mass-surveillance ‘undermines security’ and failed to stop 9/11 attacks, says ex-NSA officer”

  1. gezzer

    Why would any true loyal Americans, be they Democrat or Republican, Male or Female, White,Black,Hispanic or other, vote for a Democrat or a Republican when both .parties have shown their willingness to subvert the Constitution, our Civil Liberties, and our National Sovereignty through the TPP (The Trans Pacific Partnership) and have been doing so for decades & the Governments own records have proven this to be true ! We are being sold out by the Democrats & Republicans ! It now has become a choice between Fascism or Liberty & Fascism is winning !

    Both parties have been complicit in this criminal activity. Some will say they don’t want to waste their vote, but you are already wasting your vote on Democrats & Republicans because they are the ones who have already betrayed us ! This should be a joint effort on the part of all Americans, Democrats,Republicans & Independent voters ! Organize now before its to late ! Your liberty is at stake and that of your children & grandchildren !

    We get the Government we deserve, and nothing will change until we stop electing Democrats & Republicans after all they are the ones subverting the Constitution, & they must be held to account both politically & legally !

    Both parties are owned by corporate America, two sides of the same coin ! Wise up America .

    No more lies, excuses, rationalizations,or justifications, the public needs to hold these officials to account to the fullest extent of the law under Title 18 sec. 241 & 242 (Google it), so any future traitors will know there will be consequences to such behavior.

    Unaccountable power is absolute power, & is absolutely corrupt !

    As Mr. Snowden said the Politicians are afraid of you ! Now is the time exercise you power, you may not get another chance !


    Some words of true Patriots are as follows, as opposed to the words of false flag patriotism of bought & paid for professional politicians of today.

    He that is of the opinion money will do everything may well be suspected of doing everything for money.
    Benjamin Franklin

    He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.
    Benjamin Franklin

    Experience hath shown, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.
    Thomas Jefferson

    Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.
    Thomas Jefferson

    Tyranny is defined as that which is legal for the government but illegal for the citizenry."
    Thomas Jefferson.

    “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security,”
    Thomas Jefferson wrote this in the Declaration of Independence .

    In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.
    James Madison

    Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power.
    James Madison

    The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.
    Patrick Henry

    "We the People are the rightful masters of BOTH Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution"
    Abraham Lincoln

    America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.
    Abraham Lincoln

    We should not forget the warning of President Eisenhower .
    The NSA is controlled & operated by the DOD & the MIC (Military Industrial Complex) Private Corporations.

    "The very word "secrecy" is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it."
    President John F. Kennedy
    Waldorf-Astoria Hotel
    April 27, 1961

    As is said in the law, falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus. ("False in one thing, false in all things" is an instruction given to jurors: if they find that a witness lied about an important matter, they are entitled to ignore everything else that witness said.) The Government has been lieing to the American public for decades !

    As a reminder Hermann Goering said at the Nuremberg Trials .
    "The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    “Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.”
    Benito Mussolini

    Time to start removing the corporate Congress from office & defunding the NSA & the Police Surveillance state, to pre 9-11 levels & force them to comply with the law & impose jail time for non compliance under USC Title 18 Sec. 241 & 242 (Google it) .

    Time to send a message to Democrats & Republicans that they can't ignore & will understand !

    Only after the members of our 3 branches of Government, both Republicans & Democrats who conspired in this criminal conspiracy & violated the Constitution are prosecuted, should Mr. Snowden be charged with a crime. Prosecute those who broke the law first, in chronological order, then the Government can get around to Mr Snowden .

    The short version of the above is as follows:
    Any Government or Party that doesn't abide by the Constitution does not deserve our respect or support ! ! ! They are traitors !

    Disclaimer: Be advised it is possible, that this communication is being monitored by the National Security Agency or GCHQ. I neither condone or support any such policy, by any Government authority or third party that does not comply, as stipulated by the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

    1. Jeremy · in reply to gezzer

      I stopped reading at TPP, sorry.

    2. coyote · in reply to gezzer

      Such naivety and immaturity (on the subject of voting). On not voting I have this to say: those who don't vote have no right to complain about the consequences (it's more like being a spoilt brat throwing a temper tantrum … of course, many who vote for things they want will STILL throw temper tantrums when what they want is actually done). Furthermore, if you so choose to not vote, be thankful it is an option; I would challenge you to not vote in Australia if you were Australian (but of course you'd know how stupid it would be, then [… then again…]), for example. Also, on the subject of Australia and voting, be thankful that you, a citizen of the US, get to vote on positions like PM (fine, America doesn't have PMs but the point is the same). Yes, I'm implying here that you're also whining (especially if you refuse to vote).

      What you're doing here is simply showing your political leanings and this, I fear, is not a septic tank (…which is basically what a political forum is).

      As an aside: I'll spare you the fact that Göring's (ironically he was a drug user, lazy, messed up the Luftwaffe, all of which Hitler acknowledged after Göring's telegram to Hitler at the end of the war … but he was certainly also right here; it's quite obvious to anyone who thinks about how people act/think) quote actually shows that this has nothing to do with the US and has everything to do with humans (and I utterly despise US politics and frankly I reject many, many US things, so this is absolutely not bias for the US!).

  2. Meggo

    The short version of the above is as follows:
    Any Government or Party that doesn't abide by the Constitution does not deserve our respect or support ! ! ! They are traitors !

    Why not just sya that then!!!

    1. coyote · in reply to Meggo

      No, no… no government deserves respect (perhaps some deserve more respect than others but they're all corrupt failures). But the reason not to say that is because this is about security including computer/telephone/etc. security. It is far more than calling out politicians; politicians aren't the main point here: mass-surveillance, its problems and its consequences are the point.

  3. Dan Plesse

    9/11 Explosion Sounds, Can you Hear me Now?

  4. KR

    Technically speaking, the gathering of the data has only lead to the loss of life of some terrorists. The failure to adequately process the data is what has lead to the loss of life. It constantly amazes me how so much misdirection is used in something technically and logic based for political purposes.

    Like so many of the "big data" stores, organizations just don't know what to do with it or don't have the ability to synthesize it, but they collect it in order to use it in the future. There are a number of ways that this information can be used in near real time as well as historically, so it makes sense to gather what they can and process it when they have the ability to do so. (I am not commenting on the political nature of any of this, solely the technical issues here).

    Let's be real here, security is as much an art as it is a science and the way we deal with information is changing rapidly, and can be likened to being in its infancy. But in the end, people should report thoroughly on these types of public comments.. don't be afraid to call BS when it is spewed, as it is above.

    And politically speaking, I am not saying the politicians or the NSA was within their legal rights to gather what they did, but Snowden put many people's lives and welfare at risk as well, so I do not call him a hero for stealing and releasing those documents.

    1. coyote · in reply to KR

      You're a politician's (and the courts) dream … believing that they are actually doing things to protect you. It's so stupid that if it weren't a danger it'd be quite funny.

      No, the surveillance had nothing to do with the death of 'terrorists' (Yes I'm quoting the word for a reason, as next). Terrorism is an ideal and so many these days call any violent attack (especially if more than one death or more than one perpetrator) a 'terrorist' attack. It's boring, it's the blame game ('innocent victim') and it's ignoring the fact that the west is its worst enemy (and creates their own enemies). Sorry to break it to you but that is simply abusing the word, a word that actually started as a state sponsored thing (and frankly it always has been and always will be).

      No, Snowden didn't risk any lives. You're just ignorant and again a politician's (and the courts) dream. And your claims are if not ignorance a lie, a lie that is also harmful. Yes, there is some irony there.

  5. True American

    Its no secret that our government is corrupt, our police are corrupt, our people are sheep, and we don't follow the Constitution. No one cares. America is a country of sheep and nothing will be done but continue on.

    1. coyote · in reply to True American

      … yet you call yourself a 'True American' … Odd, that. Never mind, though. I'd say you're right but I'll go further and then say all governments are corrupt in some form or another. It's perhaps true the US is especially talented at it, though (also warmongering, scaremongering and the like).

  6. coyote

    'The United States clearly made some mistakes with regards to intelligence gathering preceding and immediately following the 9/11 attacks.'

    You mean always makes mistakes and will always continue to. This goes for arguably all countries. It unfortunately will amplify itself, however, because they become more and more desperate and desperation leads to hastiness (and also recklessness) and hastiness (and recklessness) leads to …

    'We can only hope that Binney and others like him can convince the world to learn from these missteps and steer the future of data collection in a different direction.'

    A fool's hope, perhaps. This is a power-grab and not much more (they continue to demand the same kinds of power … the same power that has repeatedly failed). Yes, espionage is necessary but not this kind. This is simply about power and it won't change anything for the good, at all. The coincidences that sometimes happen are just that – coincidental. Spam invades MTAs and inboxes, this invades privacy … no difference when it comes to showing respect.

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