Former NSA Genius Apologizes for His Super Spying Software

Illustration for article titled Former NSA Genius Apologizes for His Super Spying Software

Long before 9/11, brilliant NSA crypto-mathematician Bill Binney had developed an algorithm to make sense of the unbelievably massive amounts of data American spies were pulling in—he called it ThinThread. And then it went very, very wrong.

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ThinThread, the New Yorker reports, proved to be too good: designed to track foreign enemies via their electronic footprints, Binney was horrified to find that the powerful software processed mammoth amounts of American communications as well. Without a warrant—illegally. Binney implemented an encryption scheme that blurred out American chatter unless it was flagged by a judge, but his system was discarded by the NSA for being too invasive.

This was before 9/11. Then things changed. The NSA put a new tracking system into place—only it wasn't that new at all, Binney claims. "It was my brainchild," he explains. "But they removed the protections, the anonymization process. When you remove that, you can target anyone." From there, Binney was sucked into a morass of intelligence community intrigue, recrimination, and prosecution. [New Yorker]

Photo: Jakrit Jiraratwaro/Shutterstock

DISCUSSION

CanadianBen
Prismatist

So what happens when I post a comment on this thread, which mentions the name of the tool and its developer, and in my post I put a few key words: Nuclear Material, Dirty Bomb, Washington, President, Assassination, Obama, Precious Bodily Fluids? Will the FBI and Secret Service be rushing out to my neighborhood in New Hampshire and busting down the door of the unsuspecting neighbor whose wireless I'm using to post this?

Ooh, idea! For bonus marks I'll randomly put a date and place in the post it and we'll see if there's a 'credible threat' that we're all told to watch for that day. Let's see...Colonel Mustard in the Dining Room with the Candlestick. Wait - wrong game. Okay...Golden Gate Bridge. May 23/2011.

Chew on that, ThinThread!