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NSA employees say they knew of agency's reach before Snowden's revelations

Thursday marks exactly one year since whistleblower Edward Snowden's first revelations were published in the Guardian newspaper. But before the world knew about Snowden, two other National Security Agency (NSA) employees had already described the massive reach of the agency's activities. 

WASHINGTON: Thursday marks exactly one year since whistleblower Edward Snowden's first revelations were published in the Guardian newspaper.

But before the world knew about Snowden, two other National Security Agency (NSA) employees had already described the massive reach of the agency's activities.

Bill Binney and Kirk Wiebe worked on a project called Thin Thread, which they said could analyse internet data without violating Americans' privacy.

The project, ready in 2001, was rejected in favour of another programme without those built-in protections.

When they went to Congress to blow the whistle, Binney was demoted and Wiebe denied promotion, and both had their homes raided by the FBI.

Wiebe said: "Six weeks after 9/11, we retired in absolute disgust, having seen what NSA was doing. And we couldn't fix it from within. We were in the minority voice, not the majority."

Binney said that Snowden revealed much of the same information, but had evidence to prove it.

Both men said that the Obama administration has been relentless in its pursuit of whistleblowers, and internal NSA systems for staff report concerns do not work.

They are endorsing a new organisation, Expose Facts, supported by Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, to encourage more whistleblowers to step forward.

Thomas Drake, former NSA executive and whistleblower, said: "Knowing about government wrongdoing, knowing about government abuse, knowing about government violations of privacy and citizen rights is insufficient unless the people do something about it."

But others said “doing something about it” in the manner of Snowden often endangers lives and national security.

Carrie Cordero, director of National Security Studies at Georgetown University Law Centre, said: "There has been a significant amount of harm that has been caused by his unauthorised disclosures through the media.

“That harm includes aspects that are economic, aspects that are political, and operational, damage to the Unites States' ability to conduct foreign intelligence activities."

One year since Snowden's revelations, the ripple effects are still being felt in Washington DC and beyond - not only in White House reforms of government surveillance but in the idea of whistle-blowing, which has taken on more significance. 

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