Diane Roark Talks NSA Retribution

Here in this space we’ve written a great deal about dedicated public servants who, in varying post-9/11 roles in the national security state, became disillusioned when they discovered corruption or outright illegalities in the system. They found blank stares, closed doors — even hostility — when approaching the proper channels for help. The critical decision to do something despite the lack of institutional support sets them apart from the day-jobbers as true defenders of the Constitution they swore to uphold, the ethics and values they believed the U.S government stood for.

Of course, their lives were changed their lives forever, some, paying very dearly, as a result.

So, we’ve written about Bradley Manning, Peter Van Buren, Karen Kwiatkowski, Anthony Shaffer, Jon Kiriakou and Tom Drake. We’ve talked with Jesselyn Radack and Col. Morris Davis, who both raised red flags about detainee testimony elicited through torture, the former losing her job with the Justice Department, the latter leaving a his post as top Gitmo prosecutor and early retirement.

Are you ready for one more?

Recently, Diane Roark has been in the newspapers. Simply put, she wants her desktop computer, and is suing the federal government to get it back. How she came to this point — a 63-year-old mother, breast cancer survivor and avid gardener living in Oregon — fighting The Man to get her stuff, is a twisted story that reads like a thriller but seems to be all too familiar in the new “you’re either with us or against us” reality.

Remember when The New York Times story by James Risen and Eric Lichtblau about the feds’ warrantless wireless wiretapping broke in December 2005? It was huge (if it hadn’t been held by the NYT for a year it might have been big enough to affect President Bush’s Nov. 2004 re-election bid). But for Roark, then a 17-year veteran legislative aide on the House Intelligence Committee, it was already old news. According to her own timeline, she found out about the warrantless surveillance of American citizens from her sources at the National Security Agency (NSA) as early as February 2002. These well-cultivated sources included William Binney, a career analyst who in a stunning new “op-doc” by filmmaker Laura Poitras’ is called “one of the best mathematicians and code-breakers in NSA history.”

In 2002, Binney had just resigned a 32-year career at the NSA in disgust. In interviews since, he’s explained that a surveillance program that he had helped to develop, called “ThinThread,” had been bastardized by the NSA after the 9/11 attacks. It became known as “Trailblazer” and most importantly, it was built without the privacy controls of ThinThread. After 2001, according to Binney, it was deployed to monitor all online data communications including emails and cell phones without regard to domestic constitutional (mainly Fourth Amendment) protections. No one knew how many Americans were affected, but after repeated attempts to complain internally, he retired, along with J. Kirk Wiebe and Ed Loomis, two other longtime NSA employees who could not brook what they said was an enormous breach of the U.S Constitution — spying on American citizens without warrant.

Binney, along with Tom Drake, who was then working as an executive at the NSA, and the others, began talking to Roark, who started knocking on doors and writing letters to colleagues on Capitol Hill about their concerns. In an in-depth piece about Drake by Jane Mayer of The New Yorker in 2011, Roark is described as “a registered Republican, skeptical about bureaucracy but strong on national defense.”

“I went to a lot of people and that’s the reason they targeted me,” Roark told Antiwar in an interview last week. “I went to the committee, to the Democratic staff and to the Republican staff directors and talked to them, I wrote memos to (then) Chairman Porter Goss and ranking member Nancy Pelosi …. I wrote them many, many memos.”

When it was clear she was getting nowhere, she went to folks who were “cleared” security-wise within the system — the Associate Director of National Intelligence and the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Court, which is supposed to handle the warrants for secret spying. She said she went to David Addington, naively so, because as it turns out, the former counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney was the key drafter of the administration’s clandestine domestic surveillance program, and a powerful legal hand behind the expansion of the president’s unitary executive powers.

“I was pretty depressed about the whole thing,” Roark said. Calls and memos went unreturned and unanswered. She decided to retire in late 2002 after 17 years with the committee. “I felt I had done as much as I could have done in the process.”

Before leaving she did sent a plea to talk about Trailblazer to Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, believing at some point the warrantless surveillance would come before the high court. But again, silence.

“I knew it was going to leak,” she said. “Everyone I talked to agreed it would eventually leak because it appeared to be so illegal it was inevitable that someone would leak it.”

Roark and her associates — Wiebe, Loomis and Binney — continued to go through proper channels, filing a secret complaint about the waste, fraud and abuse of Trailblazer with the Pentagon’s Inspector General. The resulting 2005 IG report is classified, but it is supposed to be scathing, according to Drake, who back-channeled assistance on the original complaint.

The IG report might have helped hasten the end of Trailblazer, though not the end of domestic surveillance at the NSA, despite the heat on the White House from Congress over the NYT expose in 2005. Roark and her friends insist they were not the leakers in that NYT article, but as agitators from the beginning, they were instant targets.

“In August 2006, I was contacted and told the FBI wanted to know if I would cooperate in the wiretaps issue. My first thought was at last they were finally investigating the illegalities! I thought, it’s about time. But then I found out it was about the leak investigation. I had no inkling I was a target, it just didn’t occur to me,” Roark said.

In February 2007, Roark and her attorney were contacted and met with agents “and then it became evident I was a target.” They didn’t hear anything for months and then on July 26, 2007, the goon squad showed up on her doorstep. “By the time I woke up and got my bathrobe on and went downstairs, they were about to break down the door. I saw some guys in suits outside. I said, ‘who are you?’ and they said ‘FBI.’ I said, ‘what do you want?’ They flashed their badges and said, ‘let us inside and we’ll tell you what we want.’”

Unbeknownst to Roark at the time, agents were simultaneously raiding the homes of her fellow whistleblowers, Binney, Wiebe and Loomis. Binney has since told reporters he was in the shower at the time. “They went right upstairs to the bathroom and held guns on me and my wife, right between the eyes,” he told Mayer for her 2011 story.

Roark believes she was also the target of a “sneak and peek” raid, allowed under counter-terror provisions in the Patriot Act. This means that at some point before the July search and seizure, federal agents had entered when she was not at home and poked around at their leisure. “They knew exactly where to go,” and what papers to take, she recalled on the day of the raid.

Roark, Binney, Wiebe and Loomis were never charged with anything but as of the raids, were stripped of their security clearances, which, like any professional who loses a license or accreditation, effectively means they cannot work competitively in the national security field, including private consulting.

Drake was raided in November 2007. He lost his security clearance and job and despite cooperating, was charged under the 1917 Espionage Act for having classified documents on his computer. He was also charged with obstruction and lying to federal agents about deleting files on his computer and giving classified information about ThinThread and Trailblazer to the Baltimore Sun.

The case crumbled a year later. All 10 felonies (including the espionage charges) against him were dropped and he pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor for exceeding authorized use of his government computer. But again, his government career is effectively over.

Some time after the raid on Roark, the FBI asked her to plead guilty to a charge of perjury. She called their bluff — she had never perjured herself. In fact, Roark charged, they had deliberately taken her comments in the earlier interview out of context. She said no. She never heard back from the FBI or anyone in the federal government again.

“It makes me feel pretty disgusted to tell you the truth,” Roark said. She was “dropped like a hot potato” by her old friends on the committee. As for the FBI intimidation, “what it appears to be is just plain retribution,” for the IG complaint. “They never had a shred of evidence … there was nothing, absolutely nothing for them to go on.”

Drake, in an email exchange with Antiwar, said Roark and the others had lost much, but managed to maintain their integrity and their convictions throughout those dark days after 9/11.

“(Roark’s) unwavering commitment to the Constitution and the rule of law is an incredible testimony to her courage and integrity as she stood up against an unbridled and unaccountable national security state bent on subverting the Constitution for its own overreaching and unwarranted ends in secret, when there was never any reason to do so,” he wrote.

Roark, Drake and Binney still contend that the collection of domestic personal data is widespread and goes on unabated, as exemplified in The Washington Post’s “National Security Inc,” and more recently, James Bamford’s chilling Wired report last March about NSA’s newest data storage facility in Utah (which the NSA has denied). In July, Binney took the stage at the DefCon hacker conference and challenged NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander’s claims that the agency does not maintain files on Americans. He dramatically describes the current NSA program Stellar Wind, a Trailblazer legacy, in the aforementioned Poitras documentary.

More recently, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) sued the government over its refusal to divulge information about its violations of the 2008 FISA Act. Such information would indicate the extent to which the government continues to secretly monitor Americans without warrant. This apparent obstruction has caused Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., to put a hold on the Senate’s vote to reauthorize the FISA Act (which expires in December). The House just passed its own measure to extend the act on Sept. 13.

“It is very frightening,” said Roark, who is now suing the government to get her computer and other property taken in the 2007 raid, returned.

“I am very worried about our future — like Bill (Binney) said, it is ‘turnkey totalitarianism’ — you collect all this information, and you can go after anybody you want. Looking at the way they concocted this false case against us. It doesn’t have to mean you’ve done anything wrong, you just have to do something they don’t like.”

Follow Vlahos on Twitter @KelleyBVlahos.

Author: Kelley B. Vlahos

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos, a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer, is a longtime political reporter for FoxNews.com and a contributing editor at The American Conservative. She is also a Washington correspondent for Homeland Security Today magazine. Her Twitter account is @KelleyBVlahos.