Three targeted Americans: A career government intelligence official, a filmmaker and a hacker. None of these U.S. citizens was charged with a crime, but they have been tracked, surveilled, detained—sometimes at gunpoint—and interrogated, with no access to a lawyer. Each remains resolute in standing up to the increasing government crackdown on dissent.
The intelligence official: William Binney worked for almost 40 years at the secretive National Security Agency (NSA), the U.S. spy agency that dwarfs the CIA. As technical director of the NSA’s World Geopolitical and Military Analysis Reporting Group, Binney told me, he was tasked to “see how we could solve collection, analysis and reporting on military and geopolitical issues all around the world, every country in the world.” Throughout the 1990s, the NSA developed a massive eavesdropping system code-named ThinThread, which, Binney says, maintained crucial protections on the privacy of U.S. citizens demanded by the U.S. Constitution. He recalled, “After 9/11, all the wraps came off for NSA,” as massive domestic spying became the norm. He resigned on Oct. 31, 2001.
Along with several other NSA officials, Binney reported his concerns to Congress and to the Department of Defense. Then, in 2007, as then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was being questioned on Capitol Hill about the very domestic spying to which Binney objected, a dozen FBI agents charged into his house, guns drawn. They forced aside his son and found Binney, a diabetic amputee, in the shower. They pointed their guns at his head, then led him to his back porch and interrogated him.
Three others were raided that morning. Binney called the FBI raid “retribution and intimidation so we didn’t go to the Judiciary Committee in the Senate and tell them, ‘Well, here’s what Gonzales didn’t tell you, OK.’ ” Binney was never charged with any crime.
The filmmaker: Laura Poitras is an Academy Award-nominated documentary filmmaker, whose recent films include “My Country, My Country,” about the U.S. occupation of Iraq, and “The Oath,” which was filmed in Yemen. Since 2006, Poitras has been detained and questioned at airports at least 40 times. She has had her computer and reporter’s notebooks confiscated and presumably copied, without a warrant. The most recent time, April 5, she took notes during her detention. The agents told her to stop, as they considered her pen a weapon.
She told me: “I feel like I can’t talk about the work that I do in my home, in my place of work, on my telephone, and sometimes in my country. So the chilling effect is huge. It’s enormous.”