Two veterans of the National Security Agency, that secretive behemoth that was revealed by leaker Edward Snowden to be spying on Americans and their emails, telephone calls and web habits, was doing the same thing a decade ago, according to two former agents who were interviewed by PBS.
William Binney and Russell Tice were interviewed recently on the PBS NewsHour, and a video has been posted online.
Questions about their experiences were prompted by the recent revelations from leaker Edward Snowdown, who worked for a contractor for the federal government and had access to NSA secrets, about how invasive the spying on Americans has become.
But Binney, who retired after three decades with the agency, and Tice, who was fired after 20 years when he demanded congressional protection for whistleblowers, suggested it wasn't anything new. They were referencing the time period of about 2000-2003.
Tice said he was working with information obtained by satellites, and that's how he knew the NSA was spying on Americans.
"At that time it was news organizations, the State Department, including Colin Powell, an awful lot of senior people," he said.
Binney said he was in a different division, and actually was watching the input from "the world."
"I got to see the entire input from the world, looking at how to you consolidate and analyze very large sets of data," he said.
He said one of the reasons he became concerned was that it was obvious all telephone records were being obtained and stored.
Tice said, "NSA [agents] were targeting individuals. Judges like the Supreme Court. I held in my hand Judge Alito's targeting information for phones, his staff, his family. At that time there was a senator who I didn't know who he was, guy named Barack Obama…"
The former agents explained much of the data access was done "in the evenings."
And they said the story that the Utah NSA complex soon will be online to store information is a fake; they said it's already fully operational.
And they confirmed the size of that project means the actual content of telephone calls and other communications is being archived indefinitely.
The "metadata," about which the federal government has talked, for the entire world could fit in a 10 by 20 room, and would not need millions of square feet of storage space, they said.
It's a concern, they said.
"What's to say even if we have a government right now that would not think of [using information inappropriately], what about the next administration, or the one after that?" Tice said.