Edward Snowden and his revelations are a very big deal. But he isn’t the only NSA whistleblower. One who has not gotten anywhere as much attention as he deserves is Russell Tice. Wait ‘til you hear what he has to say.
We transcribed the following July 10, 2013 interview with Russell Tice, NSA Whistleblower, by Abby Martin on RT’s Breaking the Set:
Abby: As the ongoing NSA revelations [bring out] more information on the government’s secret spying program, the man who leaked the story, Edward Snowden is in [the] spotlight.
However it’s important to remember that this is far from the first time someone has come forward to expose the overreach of the NSA. Before Edward Snowden, it was Thomas Drake, a former senior executive, and before him, it was Bill Binney, a former intelligence official.
But before Binney, the very first person to claim the title of NSA whistleblower is a man you probably heard the least about. His name is Russell Tice, and he served twenty years within various government intelligence agencies, including the NSA. In 2005, Tice blew the whistle on the NSA engaging in unlawful and unconstitutional surveillance of American citizens. He’s here to tell his story and why he thinks that Snowden’s leaks are just barely scratching the surface.
Russ Tice, thank you so much for coming on.
Tice: Thanks for having me on.
Abby: What did you see that made you come and blow the whistle initially?
Tice: Well, the first thing I saw was … I’m a satellite systems specialist, so with the things I was doing with satellites, I found out sort of inadvertently, that American citizens were being spied upon by our base capabilities. So that was my first sort of heads up as to what was going on and I was just shocked because NSA was not supposed to do this, it was against regulation, it was against the law, it was against our Constitution. So it was sort of a come-to-Jesus moment for me.
Abby: Wake-up call there. You’ve said there are abuses that go far beyond what people are even talking about right now. How far does it go, Russ?
Tice: Well, it goes very far. Because initially what I saw was they were targeting news organizations, they were targeting U.S. companies that did international business, they were looking at financial institutions. But they were also going after the State Department and Secretary of State Colin Powell at the time. And they were going after high-ranking military generals and that was just what my space capabilities that I saw. Now later, when I got together with colleagues, and we started to put together the terrestrial side – that’s the side that’s being done with all those nodes, all over the country, the fiber optics and that sort of thing – then we found out that it got much worse. Because, and this was just the phone, that we were looking at. But it was also being done at the e-mail level, but that wasn’t the information I was getting. The information I was seeing were phone numbers that were being plugged into a system that was going after people’s phone numbers and associated numbers. And a lot of numbers I wasn’t even sure. But they went after law firms and lawyers, they went after more generals, General Petraeus was one of the guys. It seemed like right about that three-star level they were going after admirals and generals. They went after the supreme courts, of which I held Judge Alito’s paperwork in my hand. Numbers associated with Judge Alito that somebody had put into the system that NSA used to spy on Judge Alito.
Abby: Let’s just break this down a little bit, because these are explosive allegations right now that I have not heard anyone talk about before. That there are actually orders that you personally saw in your hands, to wiretap Judge Alito, high-ranking intelligence officers, David Petraeus, Barack Obama …
Tice: Wannabe senator Barack Obama. At that time, he wasn’t even a senator. He had won his primary in Illinois, and I think maybe the catalyst, I’m not sure, was the fact that he had just done a big speech at the Democratic convention. Now I was at that time a life-long Republican. I didn’t even watch the Democratic convention. So at the time, the significance of it didn’t hit me until later. I mean, I did look up, who is this guy Barack Obama, well, okay, he made a speech, blah blah blah. But then of course, later things started to come into play, that this is our future president of the United States.
Abby: And you’ve also said “this is not just in congressional offices. We’re talking about home surveillance and personal …”
Tice: Correct. For a senator or a congressman this would be personal phone numbers associated, it would be… And a lot of the time I could not tell, because a lot of the numbers were unlisted. And we would go to try to reverse, to find out where these numbers were. And we were being very careful about it because we didn’t want too many people to figure out how we were doing that. But we would find that it would be associated with family members, especially wives, or spouses, the other direction, but it would be their district office, it was a congressman for whatever state, they would have two or three or four little district offices back home so we would be …
Abby: I guess the next question, who is administering the surveillance?
Tice: That’s a good question. I don’t know the answer to that. It looked like, the plugging in of these phone numbers was being done in the evenings at NSA. So almost it was like being done on the sly even so that most NSA employees did not know what was going on. Now, a high-level person at NSA told me this was being directed from the vice president’s office. That would be Vice-President Dick Cheney. I don’t know that for sure but that’s what I was told from a very senior person at NSA.
Abby: so a high-level person of the Bush administration official. The next question is: why? Why was it being done? I mean, the first that comes to my mind is blackmail.
Tice: I don’t know the answer to that either.
Abby: What do you think? I mean, based on your experience, Russ. What could the reason be, for wiretapping and spying on people like Obama, Judge Alito, Petraeus, …
Tice: I think you hit the word. To me, I don’t know for sure, but that would be a means of control. If you were to look and be able to listen to everybody’s conversation for years on end for a period of time you could probably find out perhaps some salacious information that could be used to control that individual. Now if you say the intelligence community… I noticed that the intelligence community is not being hit with the sequester, the intelligence budget. Well, how is that possible? Is there some kind of leverage that is being placed on our three branches of government, to make sure that the intelligence community gets what they want? In other words, is the intelligence community running this country, not our government?
Abby: And I guess that begs the question, what, is there some shadow government at play? I mean are we talking about the industrial military complex here, what do you think? As an insider and draw your research and people you have talked to, who is running the show here, Russ?
Tice: Well, remember, I don’t know for sure, I just know that a whole lot of people got wiretapped. If I had to guess, I would say it’s the upper echelon of the intelligence community that is running this show.
Abby: It makes me wonder about people like Dick Cheney. Are they still working behind the scenes? We know that these people have been working in the administration behind the scenes for decades. I mean, Kissinger, all these people, they’re kind of, who knows, do you think they’re still vetting people like Obama, to get him in the position that he is in. But you know what? Political opponents have been spying on each other for decades so how is this different now?
Tice: What’s different about this is at the Orwellian scale. This is the everything scale. This is not just Richard Nixon going after a few, you know, enemies’ list. This is everybody and everything. And now NSA is literally tapping every communication, every digital communication in this country, content, not just the metadata, the content. And when they’re saying, “well, it’s not that far,”
once again, they’re lying. They continue to lie about the full capability.
Abby: Right. What’s your response to Obama consistently saying “we are not doing that.”
Tice: The previous president in April of 2004 condescendingly pointed at a camera and said: “We only do such things with a court order.” Now I did not know at the time that the president was lying, because I did not know how high up that went. But now we know President Bush was lying blatantly to the American people. So now President Obama is lying to the American people. Is it because he is being controlled? I don’t know. But I certainly know when he was Candidate Obama – even though I was a Republican and I heard that he wanted to stop these things, that he was going to make sure that we didn’t have national security letters just willy-nilly – I was for Obama even though I was a conservative.
Abby: I can’t trust these… All these politicians seem like actors.. You can’t ever tell what these people think. But I wanted to go to the media. Really, why is the media in a frenzy over the Snowden allegations. You came out eight years ago and said almost the same thing and except on a smaller scale, Russ, and really, you’ve been censored. Tell us your story about trying to get this information out as well.
Tice: Well, I mean, I was trying to get the news out. With Snowden coming out, I figured, now is the time to tell the rest of the story, because I’ve been holding on to this for a long time. And when I went on Keith Olbermann’s show four-and-a half years ago, I decided I was going to tell the media that NSA was going after journalists and news organizations and there seemed to be no interest whatsoever from the media that I was telling that NSA was going after you. So they either considered me a liar or they considered me, you know, NSA’s oh this guy must be crazy, or there must be some other interest that was making sure the media was not covering this. Now I don’t know what that is, but I know that it wasn’t getting much coverage. So I figured with the Snowden thing… and the difference with Snowden is, he has tangible evidence. He has paper. Now because he has paper, and it has classifications, they’re.. they are after him. Because he has the tangible proof of what I’ve said in the past. It’s easy to dismiss me when it’s my words, and you just say, well, that guy is a crazy liar. But now we have the proof, that what I’ve said in the past is true. And they want Snowden bad because he has now codified the truth with what’s going on with the National Security Agency.
Abby: You said that we are living in a police state right now. Why?
Tice: Well, I sort of consider this sort of a, the light police state. Because they’re hiding the fact that it is a police state. I mean the fact that they can literally go into all of our communications, all of the digital communications, the fact that … It’s been disclosed recently that the post office is now doing a cover on every tangible letter that goes to the post office. They’re taking the picture of everything. They’re looking at the return address and they’re looking at the main address at who is mailing something. And that is also being digitally stored. So every means of communication in this country, everything is being watched by the federal government. And that is Orwellian and that is a trademark of a police state.
Abby: Thank you so much.. Russ Tice, original NSA whistleblower.
You can watch the interview below.
IMAGE: Russ Tice on RT