HOPEX: Thomas Drake and Vivian Weisman

DISCLAIMER: this is un-cleaned-up shared livenotes, cut and paste from this piratepad: http://piratepad.net/hopex

The talk opens with Vivian showing several clips from the film The Hacker Wars. The film includes interviews with Thomas Drake, who blew the whistle on Stellar Wind. He was prosecuted with a 10 felony count indictement, and faced 35 years in prison.

Can you tell us what it was you learned at the NSA? Your were a contractor for 12 years; On 9/11 you got high level access. What did you see that led you to blow the whistle?

Drake: As a government employee, you take an oath to defend the constitution. It’s not an oath to secrecy, to the president, or NSA. It’s to the Constitution. 9/11 was a trigger event that led the govt at the highest levels, including Cheney & Bush, to approve various programs, some of which we still don’t know the extent of, despite Snowden’s disclosures.

To my horror, having grown up with Watergate, which introduced me to civil liberties, Ellsberg, the lie of vietnam, whistleblowers charged under the espionage act, and also that no one was above the law.

After 9/11 word went out from the white house that the NSA had been given authority to do dragent surveillance on extraordinary scale. It didn’t matter that is was unconstitutional. Raw executive power, taking control of the govt, from inside out. No one knew about it except for a handful. The programs launched after 9/11 are still considered secret by the USG.

Those programs were designed to collect as much info as possible, regardless of the source. So a pandora’s box was opened up. You can’t unleash a military intelligence agency, created secretlly in 1952, headed by a military general, reporting directly to the commander in chief, and turn that power on the country, without something giving.

I knew if I remained silent, I’d be complicit in a crime. I couldn’t remain silent when my own government was conducting crimes against the citizens of the US.

So Drake decided to fight, when faced with “the stark reality that the wheels had come off our own government.” He was confronted by the US operating under emergency decree: the equivalent of marshall law.

Drake’s afraid that most people don’t get it. Its not only the State, it’s also a huge industry, and large part of the corporate economy.

He doesn’t want our society becoming like 1984, where Winston couldn’t speak except in the corners out of sight of the video cameras.

The government tried to put him away in prison for as long as possible. After 9/11, we were put under emergency law by the executive, and “there was no constitution.”

Vivian: If we had been paying attention, we might not be here now.

Drake: I went to everyone I could over a series of months, providing evidence of stellar wind, billions being spent in the name of security.

Barely three weeks after 9/11, in October, I confronted the lead at the NSA. He said “you don’t understand, Mr. Drake. We just need the data.”

My own government is collecting as much as they can. It’s ultimately about social control. Don’t let anyone think they will colelct all this info and not use it.

Vivian: If someone stands up, they don’t just indict you. They try to destroy you.

Drake: what does it mean to have you life destroyed? Imagine becoming a target of the government.
When the original prosecutor came to me, he said “how would you like to spend the rest of your life in prison?” This is how far they were willing to go. At that time I was the target of their multiyear, multimillion dollar investigation into who had leaked information to the NYC.

I found out that Cheney had issued a direct edict: find the perpetrators, I don’t care who they are. Burn Em.

When you’re the target, they can make your life extremely difficult. I was a target from 2006. I had agents tailing me no matter where I went, was targeted by extreme electronic surveillance. I keep telling this story in pblic.

listened in on the E German state and the Stasi. I’m very familiar with what they did to fragment people’s lives. They had the entire phone system designed for surveilance. That’s exactly what’s happening in this country.

Vivian shows another clip, this one focuses on Anonymous. Barrett Brown and others talking about information as power. Jeremy Hammond clip.

vivian: Obama administration has gone after whistleblowers and hacktivists with a vengeance. In general, the whistleblower and the hacktivist share many traits. Can you explain that?

Drake: There was information I had access to while I was in the governemnt. It was clear that threats to public safety, fraud and abuse, criminal acts, should be made public so that thepublic can be informed. In early 2006 I went to the Baltimore Sun with what I knew. I knew with the leak investigation going on, I could be threatened not only with job loss but with far worse. But, we all have moral agency, and I chose to excercise it. Onne of my mottoes is you question everything, especially authority. There’s a transformation of govt of by and for the people into “we’re the authority.” Theyre sending chilling messages, making strategic decisions to set an example for others.

Vivian: they also want to control the narrative. Whistelblowers and hacktivists, th narrative escapes from them. You’re willing ot go to prison, and that’s rare. It’s a sea change. It breaks down the system. Yothis.aContext.getu and the hacktivists and those in my film asll say ‘we knew we were e going to prison.” what do you do with real patriots, people willing to stand up for the constitutions against the security state? We’ve seen what the state does.

Drake: you don’t do what I, bill binney, snowden, hammond, and others did without the state coming after you. I was considred to be the example the state would establish. “this is what happens when you betray the system.” Those who dare dissent in that manner, and dare raise their voices against authority, are the most dangerous kind in this regime.

I gave a speech at the Web 2.0 summit in SF, not long after I pleaded guilty to exceeding authroized use of a computer under the CFAA.

In the info economy, all these services are producing data about us, and being used against us. Not only the government, but corporations as well, surveilling you, and giving back doors on an incredible scale. It’s still not all revealed how far this government has gone to surveilll us on a scale never seen in human history. We’re lulled ino a matrix mentality, that somehow we can protect ourselves.

Deep packet inspection, when you build it in by design, it becomes incredibly difficult. I speant many many hours heping people, setting them up with systems that give them some reasonable defense that the govt won’t know exactly what they’re saying exactly when they’re sayingi it.

vivian shows another clip from the film. a clip about weev, trolling apple and ATT. – ‘I am the Bruce Lee of Regxp”

Vivian: he was convicted to 41 months for ‘adding 1’ to a URL to see other ATT subscriber info. What do you think?

Drake: It’s funny, and not so funny. I was a certified software engineer, I’ve analyzed a lot of code looking for back doors. We’re increasingly reliant on these systems. What does it men when the state has a program to ensure that the electronic infrastructure of society is as weak as possible? Now the government i actually the enemy isn’t it?

Vivian: the crimes were smilar: we embarassed ATT and you embarassed the NSA.

Drake: Certainly, when you make an institution look bad. You don’t spend a lifetime as i did… i was a member of the CCC in the 80s. There weren’t dark shadows. Anything you discovered, you’d share. You had clubs, dinners, you did everything together. There was a moment when I was being interrogated by the FBI in my house by a dozen armed agents in sept 2011. I have all kinds of legacy equipment.

[audience claps and cheers]

It was funny: 300 baud acoustic modems being confiscated by the FBI. I’m gonna come out of the hacker closet in part, I used to do hardware hacking. If we didn’t burn our 90k epram correctly we’d fry our system. It was a museum peice, basically. An FBI agent was coming down the stairs w/my Atari system, 10k from 1979, I asked ‘do you really need that?’ He said “i guess not”, went back downstairs and put it on the shelf.

Just know that information is power. I was data framed. They had evidence they claimed was top secret, sensitive information, and it gravely damaged the security of the US. I knew from pretrail haerings that they’d doctored information. Modified headers to make it look classified. That’s how far they went. And they said I should have known is was classified even when it wasn’t.

Vivian: talk about ‘I will not plea bargain with the truth.”

Drake: when I was originally confronted, the cheif prosecutor offered me a plea bargain of 30-35 years. Good deal, right? It’s important to know what lengths they would go to.

In 2008 I got a call from one of the FBI agents who was one of the contact people, she said “we need you to come down to our facility. it’s a black room wit one door that comes in and out. I’ go in and I’m seeing agent cubicles, they have little labels “molehunter.” This is the unit that’s supposed to go after real spies, not whistleblowers or hacktivists. They were sicking lead FBI agents from this molehunter unit on me. THat was weird. It reminds me of the classic game Spy Hunter.

Vivian shows another clip: Jeremy Hammond.

Drake: It was an extraordinary service that Hammond played, and project PM, hacking the Stratfor files. You have specialized companies, using info collected by the govt surveillance apparatus, and then passing it on to their clients. You not only have a surveillance state, you’re selling secrets for industrial espionage. It’s worth a lot of money. You’re selling or buying influence. I understand why the state was really ticked at Jeremy, and hammered him with everything they had in their arsenal. He was revealing a secret.

All of my evidence, abut industrial espionage, relationships with US companies and overseas subsidiaries, all of it was censored and supressed and couldn’t even show up in the transcripts of the hearings. I gave thousands of documents and hours of oral testimony, and it’s all been disappeared in the archives. Like the indiana jones warehouse. That’s where the ThinThread evidence went.

What kind of government does that? It’s not the one I signed an oath to defend.

Our own government is a domestic enemy of the US Constitution.

Vivian: When the hackers reveal criminality, and break the law.. what jeremy did was illegal, but it was right – when our govt unchains from what’s right, and latches onto a law to destroy the lives of peple like yourself and hammond and brown. We have laws, but the 3rd Reich had laws.

Drake: we’ve been here in history. It’s not kind. The govt itself has become the outlaw, truth be told. Those who’ve been turned into criminals can tell you how far the government has gone. The government is us, but if it’s now using its power to hammer you, or those who would question what it’s doing, we’ve gone far down the pipe in a dark thread of history.

I recently went to Berlin, and visited the Stasi HQ. Standing there in the archives and seeing row upon row of files, all of these records of people and this incredibly soophisticated paper, file based indexing scheme to keep track of people and what their affiliation is. The Stasi protected the State. Think about who the NSA is protecting.

We know what it means, you become a serf, a subject of the state, not a citizen of the state.

Vivian: there’s a lot of hype and fear about Anonymous. It fuels ‘see something, say something.’ Now we have to be in fear of the hackers, b/c they’ll down the grid, it’ll be the end of the world if we don’t control the hackers. The way they’re coming down on hackers seems disproportionate to their violation of law.

Drawk: I interviewed a former Stasi officer. They said it’s naive to think this info is collected for security. That’s the rationale. The colelct everything, and don’t let anyone in to the inner sanctum.

Vivian: why?

Drake: they’ve said it publicly. General Hayden, when I was there, said “we need to own the net.” We need to know everything that anyone does, anywhere, anytime.

The former Stasi officers say they will use it for social control. Binney says you collect info under the guise of mass securty, then repurpose it for law enforcement. You have no probable cause. You’re making the haystack bigger. I grew up on a farm. It’s like cutting all the grass and piiling it in the barn. How do you find the needle?

NSA is pathologically obsessed. Have any of you seen these shows about hoarders?

It’s a psychological thing: they keep stuffing more stuff into their house until there’s no room left. I say this somewhat tongue in cheeck, but it’s partially true.

We could have prevented 9/11, that’s part of the real cover up. All this data gathering is partly a response to that, an overreaction.

We can’t forget the corporate partners. NSA can’t do wha tthey’re doing without direct relationships and partnerships with the corporate side?

Vivian: wasn’t hat the relation between ThinThread adn Stellar Wind? There was a more efficient system.

Drake: I was told: should we piss off a few people at ThinThread, or billions of corporate contracts.

There’s a meme that somehow US citizens are superior to others. I reject that, period. America is not immune from history. You’re seeing the entrails of empire. Last time I checked, all empiires end up in the dustbin of history.

Vivian: [missed this part. About specific foreign targets of assassination, including sinaloa cartel bosses. Also mentioned Bhopal activists.]

shows the last clip, weev post release, describing solitary confinement in SHU (special housing unit). 14 months in solitary confinement.

Vivian: No one else in his minimum security facility spent this kind of time in solitary. They really want to destroy him. It’s the decline of the rule of law.

Drake: I will not yield, I will not bend, to those who would dare taking our sovereignty away. I’ve dedicated my life to defending life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – inalienable rights for everyone across the globe.