HOT TOPICS ▶ Honduras Elections     Target: Iran     The Real Baltimore     Reality Asserts Itself     United Kingdom    

  July 6, 2015

An NSA Whistleblower's Guide to Encryption

Thomas Drake, a former senior executive at the NSA turned whistleblower, sat down with the Real News to talk about the USA Freedom Act as ersatz reform and how the public can take matters into their own hands by encrypting their phones and computers.
Members don't see ads. If you are a member, and you're seeing this appeal, click here


Share to Facebook Share to Twitter

Supporting TRNN is a little like having my own television station. I can watch whatever I find interesting and at any time. I also enjoy the privilege of publishing my opinions on Disqus. - Gregory
Log in and tell us why you support TRNN


Thomas Andrews Drake (born 1957) is a former senior official of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), decorated United States Air Force and United States Navy veteran, computer software expert, linguist, management and leadership specialist, and whistleblower. In 2010 the government alleged that he 'mishandled' documents, one of the few such Espionage Act cases in U.S. history. His defenders claim that he was instead being persecuted for challenging the Trailblazer Project.

Thomas Hedges is a journalist and producer at the Real News. He's also worked as a journalist for Ralph Nader's Center for Study of Responsive Law. He earned a degree in history from Columbia University and majored in English as an undergrad at Colgate University. @ThomasHedgesTRN.

Nadia Kanji is a researcher and producer with The Real News Network. She is a contributor for the Media Co-op and a former editorial intern for The Nation's Washington, D.C. bureau.


VIDEO CAPTION: NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake sat down with The Real News to talk about surveillance.

We asked him about last month's USA Freedom Act, dubbed as surveillance reform by Congress.

THOMAS DRAKE, NSA WHISTLEBLOWER: It was the first legislation that had ever been passed that was ostensibly for reform other than just continue to expand it. So that's a good thing. The concern I have is that it actually institutionalizes practices that were already considered to be unlawful or in violation of the Constitution. It doesn't touch the myriads of other metadata. It was actually NSA-approved, NSA had no problems with it. Essentially outsources to the telcos what NSA was already getting from the telcos but holding it in their own databases.

So they just go back to the secret court, they actually ask for, it's basically an administrative procedure of the secret court to get the data they already had anyways. So what's the difference?

So can't wait for policy, can't wait for legislation, although although you've got to continue to work that. So what can an individual do to protect themselves? Well, I would say anything that you would consider that you don't want to share publicly with someone you don't know outside of your immediate circle of family and friends and intimates, then you need to protect yourself.

If you're making voice calls, yes, there's technology now in an app form, Wicker is one of them, Signal is another. There are several. Those are the two primary ones. Some of them even have built in secure text messaging as well. Like Signal, for example, does have text messaging.

If you want to be prudent about protecting email and just don't want anybody that's coming along and reading it, especially the government or somebody else for that matter, or someone that has other intentions, then one of the standard, standard encryption mechanisms is PGP.

That's one thing if you're communicating. What about your computer itself, what about what's stored on your computer? That's where you'll probably want to engage in the equivalent of whole disk encryption. So the drive itself is encrypted so if you were to lose the drive or have someone remotely access it, it's going to be much more difficult for them to decrypt, or to gain access to information, because the information on the computer itself is encrypted. On a Mac, FileVault 2. TrueCrypt is another one. There's yet others. There's even PGP versions from some of the vendors that you can actually encrypt either the whole disk or portions of the disk.

Then if you're communicating in a way that you don't want--because here's the other thing. If you're on internet it's quite easy for anybody with relatively modest means to know where you're coming from. Knowing what your gateway internet protocol, your address, where you're coming from to get on the internet. So there are things called proxies, and there are things called virtual private networks.

When you use proxies, that basically means you're routing yourself to another place on the internet, a virtual location, from which you then communicate. That gives you a pretty high degree, especially if the proxy service itself is non-logging, and it's protected as well. You combine that with VPN, that gives you another layer because that's actually even more secure if it's the right kind of VPN. Where many of the VPNs, the more modern ones, are actually encrypted.

If you're looking to anonymize yourself combined with encryption then you have to go into an environment like Tor. Tor basically is an anonymization engine that lets you--basically splits up your activity on the net. So it obscures you. It makes it more difficult to figure out what you're doing on the net, because it's anonymizing you. Combine that with encryption, that's pretty strong.

It's true, this is one of the paradoxes here of using encryption, is the government considers any form of encryption increasingly means you may be up to no good by virtue of hiding it. By virtue of actually, of wrapping it in privacy protections or protective mechanisms, that means you may be up to no good, which draws their attention to it. So I use really--what I recommend is a combination of anonymization, where using Tor, and there are other environments as well, combined with an encrypted channel.

Some people say well hey, it doesn't bother me, it's not affecting me, I'm not doing anything wrong, why should I worry? Well, we should all worry whenever it's--because the government has been routinely using us in what's called parallel construction to go after others. And I became an [enemy state], others that I work with were labeled as threats to the state. And I gave them carte blanche to then direct the surveillance powers against people. It's ultimately about social control, about people control. History's not kind here, at all.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


Our automatic spam filter blocks comments with multiple links and multiple users using the same IP address. Please make thoughtful comments with minimal links using only one user name. If you think your comment has been mistakenly removed please email us at

latest stories

Paul Jay On Our Need For Monthly Donors
The Death of Detective Sean Suiter: How Deep Does the Corruption Go?
Undoing the New Deal: Roosevelt Created A Social Safety Net, Not Socialism (pt3)
The Only Peace Process is Palestinian Freedom
A Chicago Alderman Introduced A Water Affordability Ordinance. Does Baltimore Need One Too?
State of Emergency Declared in Southern California
To Fight Crime We Must Address Root Causes, Says Mayor of Compton, CA
DNC's Unity Commission Further Dividing the Party
Children's Health Insurance Program to Expire Under GOP Tax Bill
Hariri's Unresignation is Saudi's Latest Failure
Palestinians Resist Israel and its US Enabler
Coal, Lies and Renewable Energy, Australian Style
Bernie Sanders and Ben Jealous Hold Healthcare Rally in Baltimore
Mystery Surrounding Detective's Death Heightens Mistrust of Police
Unlike US Embassy, Palestinians Will Not Be Moved
Greece Emerges from Economic Crisis with Increased Inequality
Reporter's Harassment Sparks a #MeToo Moment at WNYC
The Argument for Closing Low-Enrollment Schools is Wrong, Advocates Say
Undoing the New Deal: Truman's Cold War Buries Wallace and the Left (pt2)
Trump's 'Criminal' Jerusalem Move Could Backfire
Is Saudi Arabia Destroying Yemen to Plunder It?
A Semblance of Justice For Walter Scott
Senator Al Franken Resigns
Mayor Chokwe Lumumba Wants to Make Jackson the Most Radical City on the Planet
Bankrupt Greece Becomes a Major Military Spender and 'Sales Agent' for NATO
Residents Say Police Lockdown in Wake of Cop's Death is Unconstitutional
The Whole Bushel: It's Hard To Tell From Your Bio
Ben Jealous: Maryland Needs Medicare-for-All
Preemptive Strike on North Korea: Is Trump Wagging the Dog?
Trump's Jerusalem Embassy Move Was Long in the Works,, The Real News Network, Real News Network, The Real News, Real News, Real News For Real People, IWT are trademarks and service marks of Independent World Television inc. "The Real News" is the flagship show of IWT and The Real News Network.

All original content on this site is copyright of The Real News Network. Click here for more

Problems with this site? Please let us know

Web Design, Web Development and Managed Hosting