14 October 2014
Diane Roark Battle with NSA by James Risen
The entire book is essential reading. Cryptome review:
James. Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Kindle Edition. Published 2014-10-14.
People like Diane Roark. She was perhaps the most courageous whistleblower
of the post-9/11 era, and yet her story has never been fully told. She fought
a lonely battle against the most powerful forces unleashed in Washington
in the global war on terror. She has never received the recognition she deserves.
Roarks story also explains why, years later, Snowden felt that he had
to go outside the system to let the American people know just how much the
NSAs domestic surveillance programs had grown since the early days
after 9/ 11, when the Bush administration first launched the NSAs
warrantless wiretapping operation. Roark tried to work within the system,
tried to go through the right channels . She was persecuted as a result.
Roarks story offers the most in-depth and personal look at the rise
of the NSAs domestic spying program ever provided, and explains how
America allowed its most powerful foreign intelligence service to turn its
tools on the United States. It is a lesson to remember as the government
cracks down on people like Edward Snowden at the same time that the NSA continues
to expand its spying on the digital lives of American citizens.
Diane Roark was a staffer on the House Permanent Select Committee on
Intelligence, assigned to handle oversight of the NSA. Born on a farm in
Oregon in 1949, Roark had graduated from Catholic University in Washington,
earned a PhD in political science from the University of Florida, and then
began working for the government in 1981 when she joined the Energy Department.
She rose quickly over the next few years, moving first to the Department
of Defense and then the National Security Council at the White House in the
Reagan administration. She had been at the House committee since 1985. By
the late 1990s, her oversight work on the NSA had made her increasingly skeptical
of the agency and its hodgepodge approach to coping with the digital revolution.
The NSA had no strategy to make sure that its technical research would provide
useful tools for its intelligence operations.
There wasnt any coherent approach to dealing with the Internet
and the digital age, recalled Roark. Everybody just did what
they were interested in . There was a big separation between the technical
and the operations people, and the technical people didnt seem to care
about whether what they were doing helped the operations people. Nobody tracked
how they were spending their money. It was pretty bad.
Worse, Roark realized that the NSA didnt really want to change. They
were so used to believing that they were ahead on technology, they didnt
realize that they had fallen behind. There was just about no relationship
between the NSA and Silicon Valley at that time. They had extreme insularity.
I was really alarmed . But they just kept saying we are okay, just give us
money and everything will be okay.
A massive computer crash at the NSA that lasted for three days in January
2000 only increased Roarks skepticism, and made her realize that the
agency had to undergo fundamental change.
Her doubts made Roark a natural ally for a brilliant maverick like Bill Binney.
She had first met him when Binney briefed her on the SARCs work. She
had been impressed and stayed in touch with him as she began to investigate
the NSAs weaknesses. And so in his battle with NSA management to save
Thin Thread in the years just before 9/ 11, Binney decided to turn to Roark
After Binney briefed her, Roark became excited by Thin Threads potential,
and she began asking top NSA officials uncomfortable questions about the
programs status. She was frustrated that the program had not been used
before the millennium, when there were reports of possible terrorist plots.
She also began to look more closely at Trailblazer. She realized to her horror
that the NSA liked Trailblazer so much in part because it was designed to
try to connect the agencys old, existing analog technology to the new
digital revolution. Roark insisted on briefings from Trailblazer managers
and came away convinced that the program was doomed to become a costly failure.
Trailblazer was supposed to build an Internet software-based system
on top of an analog hardware system, and it just wasnt going to
work, she recalled. They had always felt comfortable with their
existing systems. They wanted to use pre-Internet technology for the Internet
age. I told them right away that would fail. It was just common sense.
(Roark proved prescient. Years later, the NSA abandoned Trailblazer. After
spending billions of dollars on the programs development, the agency
was finally forced to admit that it would not work.)
By early 2000, Roarks intervention began to infuriate NSA Director
Michael Hayden. He had already decided to go with Trailblazer and SAIC over
Thin Thread, and he wanted Congress to give the agency the billions of dollars
that Trailblazer would demand, no questions asked. He certainly did not want
to have to explain himself to some lowly congressional staffer.
Hayden suspected that it was Binney who had been feeding Roark information,
and so he called Binney on the carpet, accusing him of insubordination. He
then issued an agency-wide directive to make sure that no one else tried
to go around him to Congress again. In an April 14, 2000, message to the
NSA workforce, Hayden demanded loyalty, compliance, and silence. He made
it clear that he considered Congress the enemy, and that giving congressional
overseers any unfiltered information was an act of betrayal.
Some individuals, in a session with our congressional overseers, took
a position in direct opposition to one that we had corporately decided to
follow, Hayden wrote. This misleads the Congress regarding our
Agencys direction and resolve. The corporate decision was made after
much data gathering, analysis, debate and thought. Actions contrary to our
decisions will have a serious adverse effect on our efforts to transform
NSA, and I cannot tolerate them. I have dealt with the people involved. .
. . This was a disregard of decisions we had made together and, as such,
could not be tolerated.
I do not expect sheepish acquiescence, he added , but I
do expect that problems necessitating course corrections will be handled
within these walls. I must insist on all of us having the personal discipline
to adhere to our corporate decisions, including those with which we
Binneys efforts to go around Hayden effectively ended his career at
the NSA. His lobbying campaign for Thin Thread was now met with deaf ears
throughout the entire agency, and the program stalled and then languished,
despite Roarks continued pushing. Binney stayed on for another year,
but by the fall of 2001, he and two others from the SARC Ed Loomis
and Kirk Wiebe had had enough. They decided to retire together to start
their own company . If the NSA didnt want Thin Thread, maybe they could
sell it on the open market.
When Bill Binney had been frustrated by the NSAs rejection of Thin
Thread before 9/ 11, he had turned to Diane Roark, and it had cost him his
career. Now, after 9/ 11, Binney realized that the NSA was taking the key
component of Thin ThreadMainway and perverting its use in an
unconstitutional program. And so he turned to Roark once again. Not long
after Randy Jacobson first told him about the NSAs decision to start
spying on Americans, Binney called Roark and told her that he needed to meet
with her, without going into any details on the phone. After work, he drove
to her house in Hyattsville, Maryland, a few miles from NSA headquarters
. He then told her what he had learned about the secret NSA warrantless
After listening to Binney, Roark believed strongly that the operation he
had just described violated the Constitution. She also knew that it went
against the core principles of the NSA. Ever since the Church Committee
investigations of intelligence abuses and the reforms that followed in the
1970s, the NSA had been explicitly barred from spying on Americans. The idea
that the NSA only looked outward, not inward on Americans, had become deeply
ingrained in the agencys culture. But now, Binney was telling Roark
that the agency was secretly violating its most fundamental directive.
At first, Roark was sure that this had to be some kind of rogue operation,
completely unauthorized by either Congress or the Bush administration.
What he told me shocked me, recalled Roark. I thought this
was a rogue operation, I couldnt believe this was approved, because
it was clearly illegal and unconstitutional. The big thing was that the
protections had been removed. NSA had been rigorous on protections before
Roark knew she had to do something about it. What she didnt realize
was that her efforts would turn her into a pariah in official Washington.
Diane Roark had no experience as a whistleblower. During her career conducting
congressional oversight, people had always come to her to report problems,
rather than the other way around. And so when Binney told her about the
NSAs warrantless wiretapping operation, she did what came
naturallyshe reported it to the House Intelligence Committee. She was
certain no one on the committee knew about it.
Roark wrote a memo describing what she knew about the wiretapping program
and submitted it to Tim Sample, the Republican staff director of the committee,
and his Democratic counterpart, Mike Sheehy. Sample reported directly to
the chairman of the committee, Porter Goss, a Florida Republican congressman
and former CIA case officer who later became CIA director. Sheehy worked
for Nancy Pelosi, a California Democratic congresswoman who later became
Speaker of the House but who was then the ranking Democrat on the intelligence
committee. Roark wrote that she wanted to warn the committees leaders
from both parties that an illegal operation was under way at the NSA.
Roark was confident that her memo would be met by outrage by the congressional
leadership; instead, it was met by stony silence. After reading her memo,
Sheehy meekly replied that, while he did not know anything about it, this
NSA spying operation must explain why Goss and Pelosi had recently been called
to a secret meeting at Vice President Cheneys office . He then dropped
the subject and did not talk to Roark any further about it.
Samples response was even more chilling. He had obviously talked to
Goss about Roarks memo. Sample admonished her to drop the matter, and
to stop talking about the NSA program. She was not to tell anyone else what
she knew, Sample demanded, not even other staffers on the House committee.
Roark now realized that she and Binney had not stumbled upon a rogue operation
but rather on an unconstitutional domestic spying program approved at the
highest levels of the government and sanctioned by at least some congressional
leaders. That knowledge only made her more determined to stop it.
Despite the warning from Sample not to talk with anyone else on the committee
about the program, she privately warned Chris Barton , the committees
new general counsel, that there was an NSA program of questionable
legality and that it was going to blow up in their faces. In early
2002, Roark also quietly arranged a meeting between Binney, Loomis, and Wiebe
and Rep. Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican on the House Intelligence
Committee. Binney told Burr everything they had learned about the NSA wiretapping
program, but Burr hardly said a word in response. Burr never followed up
on the matter with Roark, and there is no evidence he ever took any action
to investigate the NSA program. He was later elected to the U.S. Senate.
After getting nowhere with Burr and being shut down by Sample and Sheehy,
Roark finally began to realize that if she was ever going to stop the illegal
operation, she was going to have to go outside of the House committee, her
institutional home. That meant that she was going to have to start taking
risks. As she reached out to her network of contacts throughout the government,
she gradually realized, to her horror, that there was a cover-up under way
to protect the NSAs illegal operation, and it involved far more people
than she could ever have imaginedincluding many she knew and trusted.
Roark first met with a former senior NSA executive who had been trying to
help her improve her relations with Hayden and the rest of the NSAs
top management. When Roark told the former official about the warrantless
wiretapping program, he seemed shocked and agreed to talk with NSA officials
about it. But Roark never heard from him again.
Roark then tried to set up a meeting with U.S. District Court Judge Colleen
Kollar-Kotelly, who was also the chief judge of the so-called FISA court,
the secret Washington-based federal court that was supposed to authorize
electronic surveillance in national security cases inside the United States.
Since the purpose of the Bush administrations warrantless wiretapping
program was to avoid the legal process established by the Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Act of 1978 and to skirt the secret court established
by that law Roark assumed that Kollar-Kotelly would be outraged when
she learned about the secret program. So Roark called Kollar-Kotellys
Washington office and left a message with her secretary, identifying herself
and asking for a meeting to discuss an illegal NSA program. The
judges secretary called Roark back to tell her that the judge could
not meet her or discuss the matter with her. Chillingly , the secretary added
that the judge had called the Justice Department to inform officials there
that Roark was asking questions, and that Roark should expect a call from
a Justice Department lawyer. Roark was horrified and believed that Judge
Kollar-Kotelly had betrayed her. Later, a Justice Department lawyer did call
Roark, but, suspecting a trap, she refused to talk to him. What Roark did
not realize was that Kollar-Kotelly had been told about the program by the
White House, and she had agreed to keep the fact that the NSA was going around
her own court a secret, even from the other judges on the court. When the
NSA program later became public, one of the other FISA court judges, James
Robertson, resigned in protest.
Next, Roark approached Charles Allen, a legendary figure in the CIA and one
of the few top CIA officials who had displayed genuine interest in the NSA
and its problems over the years. Over lunch, Roark told Allen about the
warrantless wiretapping program, and said that she believed the operation
was illegal. Allen said nothing, and by the end of the lunch, Roark realized
that Allen already knew about the program and had not objected to it.
In perhaps her most naive move, Roark next called David Addington , an old
acquaintance from their days working together on the House Intelligence
Committee. Addington had long since left the House committee and become one
of Vice President Dick Cheneys most powerful aides. From his post at
Cheneys right hand, Addington had become one of the architects of the
Bush administrations policies in the war on terror and was a fierce
advocate for the NSA domestic spying program.
Roark could not reach Addington personally, so she left a voicemail message
for him at the White House, telling him that it was very important that they
meet, that she had been handling the NSA account for the House committee,
and that she was very troubled by something that had happened post-9/ 11.
Addington never called back.
Frustrated by her inability to stop the NSA program and depressed by discovering
that so many people she knew were protecting the secret, Roark decided to
retire from the House committee in April 2002. But she wanted to make one
more push to stop the NSA program. On March 20, 2002, just before she left
the committee, she arranged to have breakfast with committee chairman Porter
Goss. After small talk, Roark brought up the warrantless wiretapping program.
She told Goss that she knew that he must have been briefed about the program,
but she said she wanted him to know that the operation was of questionable
legality and was unsustainable . This cannot go on forever,
she told Goss. Its going to leak and the committee is going to
look bad for not trying to stop it, she warned him.
Haltingly, Goss defended himself, saying that he had not been allowed by
the White House to have any staff with him during the secret briefing that
he and Pelosi had received on the program, adding that he had also not been
able to receive an independent legal review. He said he had accepted the
White Houses assurances of its legality, and instead had tried to evaluate
the program purely on national security grounds. Roark then told him that
the NSA had no reason to remove the protections for American citizens from
the collection system. She said those protections could even help make the
intelligence collection more efficient, and urged him to try to get the NSA
to restore them.
Goss agreed that the secret program would eventually leak, and that it would
be bad for the committee. He added that the Bush administrations repeated
extensions of the NSA program the White House and Justice Department
were reauthorizing it every forty-five dayswere beginning to worry
him. Roark passed on information she had recently learned, that the NSA had
already doubled the number of large computer servers devoted to the wiretapping
program, increasing the programs scale. Yet only a small number of
NSA analysts were assigned to sift through the massive amount of data because
top NSA officials were trying to minimize the number of people who knew of
the programs existence. As a result, Roark told Goss, the Bush
administration was taking a huge legal risk to operate the program, but it
was not being used effectively.
Roark made an impression on Goss. That same day, Goss went out of his way
to publicly praise Roarks work, when he took to the House floor to
mark her retirement and laud her aggressive approach to conducting oversight
of the NSA: If it were not for the efforts of Ms. Roark, I do believe
that our committees efforts to oversee and advocate for NSA would have
been much less effective, and for that she has my personal thanks,
Recently, Goss added, one of the senior managers within
the community commented on her performance by saying that our staff is very
aggressive in their oversight and has a very serious and in-depth knowledge
of our programs, sometimes a better understanding than some of the senior
managers do. I think that this is the type of oversight capability that the
American people are entitled to and should demand.
Secretly, Goss also began asking the NSA more questions about the warrantless
wiretapping program. Goss later told Roark that Hayden did not like the fact
that Goss was starting to press him.
Just five days after her meeting with Goss, Roark decided to go to Hayden
directly, and she had the first of two meetings with the NSA director to
discuss the domestic spying program. Over the course of their two secret
meetings, Hayden and Roark engaged in a fierce debate over the NSA program
the kind of debate that the Bush administration was desperate to avoid having
Roark used a pretext to get the first meeting with Hayden, but he was a step
ahead of her. As soon as she arrived, he quickly raised the issue of the
warrantless wiretapping program because Goss had already told him that she
opposed it. Hayden defended the programs legality, claiming that it
had been endorsed by lawyers from three branches, and specifically
cited David Addington.
Yet for Roark, it was their second meeting that was far more memorable and
dramatic. By that time, Roark knew more about the NSA program and was better
prepared to challenge Hayden.
Hayden probably suspected that Gosss increased questioning about the
program had been driven by Roark, whom he had not trusted since the battle
over Thin Thread and Trailblazer. So, in July 2002, after she had already
retired from the House committee, Hayden called Roark and asked her to meet
him at NSA headquarters.
Taken aback, Roark called Goss for his advice. He encouraged her to meet
with Hayden because you both speak the same language. There was
tension in the air as soon as Roark arrived in Haydens office at NSA
headquarters on July 26, in part because of the power imbalance between the
two . Hayden was an air force general, the director of the largest agency
in the U.S. intelligence community, and a confidant of Bush and Cheney. By
contrast, Roark was merely a government retiree. But from Haydens
perspective, Roark was a retiree who knew too much.
They first went over old ground the contracting war between Thin Thread
and Trailblazer but soon launched into a detailed discussion of the
domestic surveillance program. Roark began by asking Hayden why they had
taken the protections for U.S. citizens off the Mainway system, but he refused
to answer. She repeated her question. Why did they remove the protections?
Finally, Hayden blurted out the harsh truth. He said we didnt
need them because we had the power, recalled Roark. He wouldnt
look me in the eye when he said it.
I said that the protections would not hurt and might even assist analysis
by making it more rules-based and automated, especially since only a very
small number of analysts were cleared for the program and its massive amounts
of data, Roark told Hayden, according to notes she kept of the meeting.
She had raised the same issue in their meeting in March, but it was clear
to her that Hayden had not followed up to get more information on her arguments.
I pushed hard and repeatedly about why he had dropped the
protections for American citizens. He avoided answering until
finally he said again that they didnt need them because they had the
power. Roark was stunned by Haydens brutally candid answer.
Roark then told Hayden that she had heard that the domestic surveillance
program was already expanding, and Hayden told her it was true. This expansion,
coupled with what Roark had previously heard about the doubling of the number
of computer servers assigned to the program, indicated to her that the NSA
was heading on a path toward unleashing its full surveillance powers on the
United States. In her unclassified notes from the meeting, she said that
Hayden confirmed that additional forms of data collection were taking place.
She then replied that the expansion meant that restoring protections for
American citizens was more important than ever.
Prodded further by Roark, Hayden admitted that we are not in the business
of minimizing U.S. citizens. That meant that the NSA was now in the
business of spying on Americans. She then asked Hayden how long the program
was going to run and when it would end. He shook his head no and said, It
is now among us.
Roark also pressed him on the limits of the program , and Hayden suggested
that the only real limit had been imposed by Rep. Nancy Pelosi in exchange
for going along with the program and maintaining her silence about it. Hayden
told Roark that Pelosi had repeatedly warned him not to go beyond the
CT [counterterrorism] target, and for now they were adhering to that.
In other words, the Bush administration and NSA eventually wanted to use
the domestic spying program for purposes that had nothing to do with the
global war on terror.
Roark asked him if he had a court order approving the program, and Hayden
said no. Roark countered that if the NSA received court authorization, it
would be much easier to disseminate the data throughout the intelligence
community for wider analysis and more efficient use. But Hayden again said
that they did not wish to draw attention to the program by seeking
legal authorization either from new congressional legislation or through
the courts. Hayden told her that the lawyers had approved the warrantless
wiretapping program based on the presidents wartime powers as commander
in chief. He added that even if the secret program ever became public , he
would still have the majority of nine votes. Roark took that
to mean that Hayden believed that the Supreme Court would back him and the
Bush White House in a constitutional showdown over the program.
I insisted that he needed a court order, that opinions about the
constitutionality and SCOTUS votes are simply opinions, not fact, and he
was placing himself and his agency at great risk. He again demonstrated supreme
confidence the powers were there. He realized it would leak, but believed
he would come out looking well, and indeed would like to reveal parts of
Finally, Hayden explained why he had really asked Roark to his office. He
told her that he wanted the program to run as long as possible, that he wanted
more time. In other words, he wanted Roark to keep quiet about the program
and not leak its existence. Roark looked back at him and quietly told Hayden
that she was not going to go to the press. She had no intention of divulging
what she knew about the wiretapping program to a reporter.
But that was not good enough for Hayden. He said he did not want her talking
to any members of Congress about the program, either. Roark realized that
Hayden considered providing information to Congress a leak. He wanted knowledge
of the programs existence to be limited to the few congressional leaders
who had already been officially briefed. He insisted that he was confident
he was well within constitutional powers.
Roark left Haydens office more alarmed than ever, and found his statement
that he believed that the Supreme Court would go along with the NSA program
particularly chilling. Roark decided that she needed to try to get to the
Supreme Court before Hayden.
Bill Binney and Kirk Wiebe told her that they knew a government contractor
who had mentioned to them that he knew the daughter of Supreme Court Chief
Justice William Rehnquist. So Roark took a chance. Using official stationery
from the House Intelligence Committee to help verify her credentials, Roark
wrote a note to the chief justice, stating that she wanted to meet to tell
him about an NSA program that appeared to be unconstitutional. She then arranged
for the contractor to hand deliver the letter to Rehnquists daughter
with instructions for her to give it to her father. Roark never heard back
Increasingly depressed, she realized that she was fighting the entire Washington
power structure . She had gone to all three branches of government
Congress, the White House, and the courts and had discovered that there
was a conspiracy of silence among the nations most powerful public
officials to protect an unconstitutional operation. It was very clear
to me that there were all these people who had signed over their lives, and
that they had pledged not to talk about it.
Roark tried one last time. In September 2002, she joined with Binney, Wiebe,
and Loomis to file a formal complaint with the Defense Departments
inspector general about the NSAs decision to go with Trailblazer over
Thin Thread, accusing the agency of wasting taxpayer money on Trailblazer.
When they met with investigators from the inspector generals office
to discuss their complaint in detail, Roark asked Binney and the others whether
they wanted to bring up the other issue the NSAs
domestic spying program. Binney shook his head no, and Roark dropped the
She had reached a dead end. In 2003, she moved back to her native Oregon,
tried to work with Binney, Wiebe, and Loomis to start a new company to
commercialize the Thin Thread technology, and finally settled into retirement.
She was still depressed that she had not been able to stop the NSA program,
but she had abandoned her efforts to raise the alarm.