In a $100 million lawsuit that has garnered virtually no public attention, five National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblowers are accusing the federal government of illegally retaliating against them for alerting the NSA and Congress to a waste of taxpayer funds that benefitted a well-connected contractor.
The lawsuit tells the story of the infancy of the NSA’s efforts to surveil the Internet. Back then, there were two programs for the spying agency to choose from — and the first was called ThinThread. It had been developed internally, was comparatively inexpensive, had been tested and proven to be effective, and included safeguards preventing the spying on Americans without a court warrant. The other was called Trailblazer. It did not include such safeguards, had not yet been shown to be effective, and cost 1,000 times more than ThinThread. Instead of being developed internally, it was to be outsourced to Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), a politically connected contractor.
The NSA chose Trailblazer.
In response, four NSA employees who had worked on ThinThread, as well as a congressional staffer, alerted Congress and the Office of the Inspector General of the NSA that the agency was wasting taxpayer funds. That is when their troubles began, according to the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs are former NSA employees Thomas Drake, Ed Loomis, J. Kirk Wiebe, William Binney, and former congressional staffer Diane Roark.