Issue 3 Online Extra: James Bamford on the NSA & Julian Assange

To launch our International Politics issue, we dialled up a line to Washington DC and spoke to James Bamford, the man who knows things about the US government they would rather he didn’t…

This post includes extra excerpts from the interview not included in the magazine. The main interview can be downloaded here as part of our International Politics Issue.

Please note: This article was originally published on the original version of The New Idealist online in November 2013 before being added to this newly created site in July 2015.

In your piece in Wired magazine last year where you wrote about a new NSA datacentre you spoke with William Binney (As chief and one of the two cofounders of the agency’s Signals Intelligence Automation Research Center, Binney and his team designed much of the infrastructure that’s still likely used to intercept international and foreign communications) and he implied that the US is now a hair’s breath away from becoming a totalitarian state*. Now a year later we have a name for the programme the datacentre has was set up to support (PRISM), Does this mean the US is now already a totalitarian state?

What Binney said was that (he held up two fingers about an inch apart)… “we are this close to a turnkey totalitarian state” which meant that we aren’t in a totalitarian state now; if we were I wouldn’t have been able to write the articles I’ve been able to write, what he said was the key word was turnkey in other words the mechanism is in place.

The surveillance equipment is hardwired into the system now so that if somebody decides that the US would be better off without civil liberties and rights and so forth it would be very easy for that person to simply turn the key and turn the US into a totalitarian state. The agencies have given the government the technological capability to turn the US into a totalitarian state if a President decides to make use of those tools that NSA have given them.

Your book The Shadow Factory, became a New York Times best-seller and it focused on the NSA involvement in the 9/11 investigations. What did you uncover?

The NSA at the time had all the information it needed to prevent the attack. It had already intercepted communications from the two earliest hijackers who were at the time living in San Diego. It picked up the first indication of the attack from people in Osama Bin Laden’s group in Afghanistan.

One of the biggest ironies here is that the terrorists actually set up their command centre where they spent a month preparing for the (Pentagon) attack just a couple of miles from the NSA headquarters in the same town. So there you have the NSA and the hijackers living almost next door to each other and neither knew about the other so it was a very big wakeup call with the NSA that should be sharing more information. They had information and they never shared it with the FBI, the State Department…even the CIA was trying to get some of that information and the NSA refused to give it to them.

What is your view on Julian Assange’s work with Wikileaks and his creation of that as a platform?

I’m all in favour of organisations like Wikileaks, I think there should be more leaks. I think it’s the government that’s harming the public far more than the leaks do. The leaks are the only the way the public has of knowing what the government is doing. (James then talks about the December 17th 2009 attack against a small village in Southern Yemen in 2009 killing over 50 civilians and the subsequent alleged cover up between the Yemeni and US Government highlighted in the Wikileak cables)… Wikileaks was key to leaking that information. These are all details that the public needs to know.

James Bamford is one of the leading writers on intelligence in the United States.  Among his books are three on the National Security Agency including his latest, The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America.  In 2006 he won the National Magazine Award for Reporting for his writing on the war in Iraq.


You can read the full interview in Issue 3 here.


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Issue Seven: The New Future Issue (Annual Special Edition)
Issue Six: The Autism Issue
Issue Five: The Doomsday Edition (Extreme Weather Special)
Issue Four: The Issue We’re All Talking About (Guest Edited by the actress Jodhi May)
Issue Three: Has Obama been corrupted by the machine?
Issue Two: IQ VS EQ – Is Emotional Intelligence what you need to succeed in the digital age?
Issue One: Downwardly Mobile? Will the next generation find it harder to reach the next level?

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