Five government whistleblowers have filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Justice Department, National Security Agency, FBI and their former directors, seeking $100 million in damages for alleged retaliation and violation of constitutional and civil rights.
According to the complaint, filed in Washington D.C.'s federal district court, after the plaintiffs blew the whistle on the NSA for what they considered to be wasteful government spending and a violation of civil liberties, they were threatened with prison time, subjected to illegal searches and seizures and had raids conducted on their homes and places of business, reported The Associated Press.
The whistleblowers are former House intelligence committee staffer Diane Roark, and retired NSA employees Thomas Drake, William Binney, Ed Loomis and J. Kirk Wiebe. The suit was filed against the NSA, FBI, DOJ, former NSA directors Michael Hayden and Keith Alexander, former FBI Director Robert Mueller and a few others, reports Techdirt.
"The defendants falsely and fraudulently used the pretense of tracking... leaks to attack, harass, and intimidate the plaintiffs," the lawsuit says. It claims the defendants violated the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 and intentionally inflicted emotional distress and conducted malicious prosecution, according to AP.
The plaintiffs blew the whistle on a short-lived yet wasteful Internet surveillance program called THINTHREAD, which was under development by the NSA but was trashed in favor of a program that was more expensive but less protective of Americans' communications.
The lawsuit alleges: Plaintiffs worked in various roles on developing and perfecting a candidate program called THINTHREAD which was capable of performing the technical work desired by the NSA for surveillance of the internet efficiently, effectively, and at very low cost.
THINTHREAD was put into operation successfully but only on a demonstration basis. It was approved to demonstrate that it worked, but not officially commissioned for actual operational use.
Despite the Plaintiffs demonstrating that THINTHREAD actually worked, the NSA ignored THINTHREAD as a candidate for performing the desired surveillance of the internet and telephone communications, because THINTHREAD was inexpensive and highly effective, yet Lt. General Michael Hayden had made a corporate decision to "buy" externally rather than "build" internally the solution deemed necessary to harvest internet data.
The program was abandoned and the NSA contracted the work out to a private firm to develop a more expensive system called TRAILBLAZER, which ended up costing taxpayers $4 billion. But that program was also plagued with problems and was abandoned in 2006, according to RT.
The plaintiffs reported the wasteful "funneling" of funds to the Department of Defense, which issued a scathing internal report on the waste, fraud and misuse of taxpayer money.
The NSA apparently wasn't too happy with the whistleblowers' accusations and concocted a story claiming they had leaked information on the NSA's surveillance of Americans to the New York Times. The NSA then used this story as the impetus for a series of unlawful raids, even though the government had already determined the plaintiffs had nothing to do with the leaks, according to the complaint.
The complaint says the subsequent raids on their homes were purely retaliatory:
"In fact, the affidavit for the search warrants are themselves based upon an illegal, warrantless phone tap and refer to a conversation illegally intercepted between Plaintiff Roark and Plaintiff William Binney, although misrepresenting the call's contents. Further, the ultimate pretext for the search, a paper describing THINTHREAD at a high level that Binney had given the FBI, was falsely claimed by NSA to be classified. Thus, the search warrant affidavit is not only false but illegal."