The story of "ThinThread" the NSA real-time intelligence tool with privacy filters told by the movie "A Good American", prequel to "Snowden"


A film on one of the best cryptomathematicians and coders, William Binney, former NSA official


The system he created was used for spying on US citizens after 9/11




trailer available here

(note that the trailer contains 9/11 images) 



Facebook post by Oliver Stone

Be aware there’s a wonderful documentary -- "A Good American" -- that’s been made on Bill Binney and his tragic confrontation with the National Security Agency (NSA) over the issue of mass surveillance. A fascinating prequel to the Snowden story, we use a semblance of Bill’s character in our movie (played by Nic Cage). The filmmakers are looking to bolster their film’s distribution and outreach, and you can support it by donating here The filmmakers are even working with lawmakers to roll back the use of mass surveillance by our Governments.




Facebook post by the film page "A Good American"



Information on William Binney and J.Kirk Wiebe



Willam Binney is considered to be one of the best crypto mathematicians and coders in the US. As mentioned in the video below, W. Binney serving  at "Operations" in NSA joined forces with a senior official from "Research" in NSA and founded the Signals Intelligence Automation Research Center (SARC). As a technical director of the center he had 6000 employees under his supervision.

(Note that SIGINT is one of the NSA divisions. Others are HUMINT and COMINT.)


Information on J.Kirk Wiebe


Additional Reference:



W. Binney gives lecture at MIT on an event organized by the ACLU



A video made by MIT with ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union)

shared by Robert Duncan on facebook (also here on facebook).







2005-12-16: New York Times reports that following 9/11, NSA was authorized to intercept US citizens’ telecom data* without warrants

(*calls, emails, browsing, banking and travel records) 


Link to article


For additional information:

NSA warrantless surveillance (2001–07) (Wikipedia)

Professionalism/Corruption at the National Security Administration (Wikibooks)



Community call with former NSA (SIGINT) officials and whistleblowers William Binney and J. Kirk Wiebe on 2016-10-06


Please find the recording here:


Three main parts:

00:00 – 00:50 W. Binney and J.Kirk Wiebe talk about their story.

00:50 – 1:00 W. Binney and J.Kirk Wiebe announce that they will become involved in investigating the subject of Targeted Individuals

1:00 – end Questions by community (1:14 David Voights)



Excerpt from the call. J.Kirk Wiebe on the role of NSA:


[50:48] "It is shocking to hear attacks in Paris in size and type that we have seen and same in Brussels, same with the Boston marathon, Fort Hood shooting. A whole raft of what I call failures. And what I mean is NSA failed to stop any of them. Any of them. That is shocking. The whole reason NSA exists is to stop threats to the security of the United States and the safety of the American people. And they are failing miserably. And every year they ask for more money, more access to data and they continue to fail. And they continue to argue that we are failing because we do not have enough. No, they are failing because they have too much data. They can’t pick the needles out from a monstrous haystack. And this loosy on collecting more and more and more about innocent people is ridiculous. The whole effort needs to stop and get redone so that we focus on those with the most suspicion of committing crimes and terrors against people all around the globe. NSA’s mission is not just to protect the United States by the way, it is to produce foreign intelligence. So any attacks on Paris and Belgium are also failures of NSA. Just wanted to add that."




Personal notes from the call.


Following 9/11, in late September of 2001, new packs of hardware equipment arrive at the NSA. J. Kirk Wiebe asks W.Binnie and others to find what this is about. Later, he is also asked to leave a meeting room. In the years that follow it will become known that a new domestic surveillance program was about to be initiated, called “Stellar Wind”. Binnie asks his contractors and finds out that the system that he had created to produce foreign intelligence on known targets and which included built-in privacy protections for US citizens and security layers was now going to be used on all American citizens indiscriminately. His system was called ThinThread and three weeks before 9/11 it was abandoned over another system called TrailBlaizer. Several years later, the latter will prove to be inefficient; according to quotes, it was considered to be a waste of tax payers money. Binnie’s system created in an interdisciplinary NSA group worked by screening terabytes of information per minute from sources like internet etc (e.g. information extracted by fiber optic cables), keeping information according to filters and discarding the rest. It had upfront filtering consisting of tracking only known targets (e.g. terrorism suspects) and also a filter that excluded US to US citizen contacts; information on a US citizen would be extracted only if he/she was in contact with a known target. Now the upfront filtering would be removed and thereby information on all US citizens could be obtained. Also, Binnie had included software that was detecting who handles the data; this was removed. What does this mean practically? To illustrate this it is mentioned that the software that could detect Snowden for instance was removed.


Excerpts from the call:


42:55 J.K. Wiebe: There are laws in government that protect whistleblowers everywhere in government except the intelligence community. So we are exempted. I wonder why. So we have none of the benefits (inaudible phrase).


43:15 W. Binney: Maybe most of your listeners don’t know that the NSA and the intelligence agencies are exempt from auditing by the US government. It’s like, wouldn’t you like to have a job where you are the head of NSA and you are handed somewhere between 10 and 50 billion dollars a year to spend any way you see fit and no one will check on you how you spend it? It means that you could take a million home a month with nobody missing it. And even if they did they wouldn’t follow up to find out what you did with it. That’s a setup for corruption and that’s exactly what has been going on.



Here is a New York Time 8 minute video and an op-ed on William Binnie


Following the publication of the NYT in 2005 on NSA warrantless surveillance, the NSA starts an investigation on damage assessment as mentioned in this article.


Also, FBI launched an aggressive investigation.



“The 2005 NSA document ends with a recommendation “that the Director, NSA, request a DOJ investigation.” The Bush administration did in fact launch an aggressive investigation, with 25 FBI agents and five prosecutors assigned to the case, the Times reported in 2010.”



Sources mentioned above are cited in this article by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)



It should be noted that there is an active court case against the NSA on the subject by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (Jewel v. NSA)


In Jewel v. NSA, EFF is suing the NSA and other government agencies on behalf of AT&T customers to stop the illegal unconstitutional and ongoing dragnet surveillance of their communications and communications records.



Also, as mentioned in this NYT article

Thomas Drake “hired in 2001 by the National Security Agency to help it catch up with the e-mail and cellphone revolution”, “became convinced that the government’s eavesdroppers were squandering hundreds of millions of dollars on failed programs while ignoring a promising alternative.” After contacting all the official sources in the intelligence community and the government without success, he contacted a reporter of the Baltimore Sun who wrote a series of articles on the subject in 2006-2007.


Here is an article published in the Baltimore Sun on ThinThread discontinuation.


The FBI investigation results in raids in houses to seize material related to the case.


“Three ex-NSA staffers, William Binney, J. Kirke Wiebe, and Ed Loomis, all of whom had quit NSA over concerns about the legality of the agency's activities, teamed with Diane Roark, a staffer on the House Intelligence Committee, to ask the Inspector General to investigate. A major source for the IG report was Thomas Andrews Drake, an ex-Air Force senior NSA official with an expertise in computers. Siobhan Gorman of The Baltimore Sun published a series of articles about Trailblazer in 2006–2007.”


“The FBI agents investigating the 2005 The New York Times story eventually made their way to The Baltimore Sun story, and then to Binney, Wiebe, Loomis, Roark, and Drake. In 2007 armed FBI agents raided the houses of Roark, Binney, and Wiebe. Binney claimed they pointed guns at his head. Wiebe said it reminded him of the Soviet Union. None were charged with crimes except for Drake. In 2010 he was indicted under the Espionage Act of 1917, as part of Obama's unprecedented crackdown on leakers.[49][50] The charges against him were dropped in 2011 and he pleaded to a single misdemeanor.”


Binney and Wiebe sued for the raids and won. Roark has an active court case on the subject.


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