9/11 Lies and the National Security State - Thomas Drake

Twenty years later, Thomas Drake still says the NSA knew about the 9/11 plotters prior to the attack, and likely reported the intel through a back channel to VP Cheney. Nothing was done to prevent the attack, says Drake a former senior executive at the NSA. Why? To prepare public opinion in favor of invading Iraq. Drake joins Paul Jay on

This is the sixth part of the Reality Asserts Itself with Thomas Drake series. Here is a link to the playlist:

This is the sixth part of the Reality Asserts Itself with Thomas Drake series. Here is a link to the playlist:


Paul Jay

Hi, welcome to My name is Paul Jay. In a few seconds, I’ll be back with the man who knew too much, Thomas Drake. We’re going to talk about the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

In 2015, I interviewed Thomas Drake, a former Senior Executive of the National Security Agency and one of the more important whistleblowers in recent years. The interview was titled From 9/11 to Mass Surveillance, The Man Who Knew Too Much. The five-part interview is on the front page of, and I think it’s one of the most important interviews I’ve conducted. On this 20th anniversary of 9/11, I urge you to watch all five parts for an explosive look into the role of the NSA [National Security Agency] and the [George W.] Bush/ [Dick] Cheney White House in suppressing intelligence that could have prevented the 9/11 attacks. It’s also an important discussion about the roots of the national security state, more or less from 1947, that led to the massive apparatus that exists today.

I also urge you to watch the interview I conducted with Sen. Bob Graham, who was the Co-Chair of the Joint Congressional Committee, investigating 9/11. Graham was convinced that Bush and Cheney not only knowingly allowed the attacks to take place, but in some ways, facilitated them. Graham came to believe the quote, “intelligence failures were by design, engineered mostly by Cheney.”

Thomas Drake went public about secret surveillance programs, and for that, was charged and almost went to jail. That story is also found in the interviews I mentioned above. Drake is a decorated United States Air Force and United States Navy Veteran who worked, in many capacities, within the National Security State. He started a new job as Senior Executive for the NSA on September 11, 2001. That’s right, his first morning of work was the day of the attack on the World Trade Center. He reported directly to the number three leader of the NSA, the signals intelligence director, Maureen Baginski, that put Drake in the position of having access to some of the most critical intel acquired by the NSA prior to 9/11. Although, he saw this data after the fact.

Here’s a short segment of my 2015 interview with Thomas Drake.


DRAKE: I was never actually interviewed for the 9/11 Commission.

  JAY: Why?   

DRAKE: Because I think my testimony was so explosive. It was smoking gun evidence of NSA’s culpability.

  JAY: Just to remind people, we talked about this in an earlier segment, that the NSA actually had eavesdropping hard evidence of the connection between these guys, two guys that end up on the American Airlines flight in San Diego and what was known as a Yemeni switchboard for al-Qaeda, and I’m sure much more than that.   

DRAKE: Oh, actually, far more. That was just one part of it. There was actually an entire intelligence report that they had done prior–months and months. It was actually in early 2001 that NSA refused to allow it to go out for distribution to the rest of the community. And the analysts were beside themselves. I didn’t find out about it until shortly after 9/11 when it was brought to me. 

JAY: What was in it?   

DRAKE: The entire network that we knew at that time, based on signals intelligence.   

JAY: The entire network that winds up doing 9/11.

  DRAKE: The entire al-Qaeda and associated movement. Yes. Not every single hijacker, but most of them were known. Yes.

  JAY: Well, I’ve got to return to something we talked about earlier. There’s a backchannel to Cheney. You can’t sit on this stuff.

  DRAKE: Of course not.   

JAY: Well, watch the earlier segment, ’cause we talked about this.

  DRAKE: That was the other intelligence network. He couldn’t trust what was set up from 1947 on. This is one of the ironies of history. Cheney himself could not trust the early alert and warning system that had been put into place in 1947, in which we would never have another [incompr.] like Pearl Harbor.   

JAY: Unless you want one.

  DRAKE: Well, he knew it would take something like that. I’ll just–we’re going to put it right on the table again, ’cause we keep saying it. He knew it would take something like a 9/11 in the 21st century for Americans to just cede to the government whatever was necessary to deal with whatever happened.   

JAY: To give this–.   

DRAKE: Pearl Harbor did to–for us, for our entry into World War II what 9/11 did in terms of what was unleashed in secret. That included mass surveillance. That included the torture regime. And everything else.

Paul Jay

And, of course, everything else included the invasion of Afghanistan, Iraq, and many other wars that followed. It also led to a massive expansion of the National Security State, including spying on Americans on a scale never imagined before.

Now joining me again, 20 years after 9/11 and six years after the previous interview, is the man who knew too much. Thomas Drake, thanks so much for joining me again, Tom.

Thomas Drake

Thanks for having me. It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years.

Paul Jay

So, that quote that I play from our earlier interview has anything in your mind changed about what you said then, or has your thinking gone further, six years after the interview, 20 years after the event.

Thomas Drake

No. I mean, time and distance certainly has not led me any differently. In terms of my thinking, I’ve just become much more — what’s the word? I’m trying to think of a word, which I usually don’t fail at. It seems like yesterday. This is 20 years on, and I realized it’s just a date in the calendar. For me, that first day on the job, not knowing exactly what was going to happen, obviously, later that morning, it feels like yesterday.

There’s been a whole lot of things that have been published, documentaries, commentary, new books, and everything else regarding 9/11. But 9/11, for me, is a huge event. For those of us who lived through it know exactly what we were doing on that day. In my particular case, I was at the NSA, and it was my first day reporting to my new duty station. I can playback that day, second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, and then obviously month by month, especially the first few months. It was clear that this was going to be a huge history-shaking event, and it was a failure. It was a failure, a systemic failure to provide for the common defense, that’s in the preamble of the Constitution, that’s a piece of paper that I took an oath to support and defend four times in my government career.

The fact that this entire apparatus was set up to provide indications and warnings so things like this wouldn’t happen, and if they were in the progress of happening, you would have enough intelligence, hopefully, to blunt stop or prevent it.

I can tell you the system was blinking red. As I look back on the years prior to that fateful day, there were more than enough indicators that something big was afoot. Particularly in the last few years, starting in 1998, George Tenet himself had sent out a memo to the intelligence community that I remember reading in 98′, saying the system was blinking red, and yet it still happened.

I think it really became a significant event of historical proportions, not just because of the failure but because of what it created. The fear led to total overreach by the U.S government, in particular. There were people in very high places that used 9/11 as an excuse to do things that they wouldn’t have been able to do or would have been much more challenging to get away with, in terms of a torture regime, a mass surveillance regime, and essentially setting aside the law of the land. National security rules were going to apply. Everything was now being driven by American exceptionalism, and it would rule the day. Cheney had his excuse. Cheney, in essence, had his excuse to restore the full power of the imperial presidency because he always thought that [Richard] Nixon had gotten a raw deal.

Paul Jay

Well, actually, I wasn’t going to go there until later, but you mentioned Nixon. Cheney was very involved in advising Ford to pardon Nixon. I was just recently watching All the President’s Men, the movie. There’s a line near the end of the movie, which I didn’t get the importance of when I watched the movie when it first came out, years ago. It’s such a reveal, and then they don’t do anything with this line. I haven’t heard many people talk about it, but I don’t know if it’s Bernstein or Woodward? One of them says, I guess to Ben Bradley, “… and they’re all in on it.” Bradley says, “Well, who are you talking about? The entire intelligence apparatus?” It may not be exactly those words, but pretty close. They’re all in on this with Nixon, and that’s it. No one follows up on that line. 

In my conversation with you, we talked a little bit about how Nixon took the fall for all of this. If it’s true that the whole intelligence apparatus, at the very least, knew what Nixon was doing and was in on covering it up, that’s quite a statement.

Thomas Drake

Yeah. I’m well aware of the theories that have been bandied about regarding 9/11. I’ve had to deal with a lot of conspiracy theories, particularly that it was an inside job, that it was known ahead of time. I think it’s important to note that although there continue to remain some critical questions that are largely unanswered, the fact remains that the failure actually led to a massive cover-up of what was actually known. There was, in fact, intelligence regarding the plot. As you indicated in your previous interview of me going back six years, I’m well aware because of what I ended up uncovering and discovering regarding the lead-up to 9/11, what NSA itself actually knew about the plot. For government officials to claim that they didn’t know, or couldn’t have imagined it, is literally a lie.

 On the other hand, I can also tell you that there was a lot of stovepiping, that information itself was regarded as power; if I had something that I know that you don’t know, that gives me power over you. So why would I share it? Part of the dynamic here is that critical information was not shared because certain government agencies did not know what others would do with it.

The irony, of course, is if it’s true indications and warnings — and I was classically trained during the Cold War period — you are to report it up through and to include the National Command Authorities. How else are they going to know?

Unfortunately, a lot of information ends up being buried. A lot of information ends up being recast. A lot of information ends up being ignored. I remember one of the interviews that I did with one of the veterans of war to the present day was part of my sentencing. I had 240 hours of public service that was actually handed down by the judge. In my particular case, the government went after me for violating the Espionage Act. I didn’t end up in prison, but I did an interview as part of the sentence; it was a pro-form of a sentence: one-year probation and 240 hours of community service. I ended up interviewing one of the — in fact, he was the only one that remained at the Oahu radar station, north of Pearl Harbor, on that other fateful day of December 7, 1941. He literally issued a warning. He knew that what he saw in his radar scope, which at the time was top secret. It was new-fangled technology, but he did his duty, the duty to warn. He contacted Schofield Barracks, as per protocol, but he was ignored and dismissed.

Paul Jay

Some people suggest that was deliberate, not just miscommunication.

Thomas Drake

I tend to, in the fog here, that he just didn’t want it to be real. He didn’t consider it. Remember, this is the front-line telling him, the duty officer, we have airplanes coming in. You need to issue a warning and let everybody know. Well, that didn’t actually happen. Interesting enough, there was a huge cover-up. They tried to prevent that information from ever being made public. Joseph Lockhart is his name. There was that moment where I actually asked him, what if your warning had been heeded? What if your warning had actually been accepted? There was just this extraordinary pause. You felt history, the what if’s of history, rushing in to say, yes, it would have been a very different outcome.

I’m the first to acknowledge, however, that [Franklin D.] Roosevelt was actually looking for an excuse to get the United States into war because the isolationist movement. Basically, because of what had happened in World War One, a huge segment of the population did not want to engage in any foreign entanglements. Pearl Harbor changed that overnight.

Once 9/11 happened, to come all the way forward to 2001, Cheney and company, he was really the shadow president, particularly, for national security. They now had their excuse. They also had their new enemy. This now, in essence, really brought the entire apparatus, both sort of the hidden shadow side of it, plus what’s in the open, to bring to bear. They could unleash the full power of the executive. Remember, Cheney said that President’s power was essentially unlimited. Whatever Article Two said, especially during wartime, had unlimited power, and Congress could not do anything about it.

Paul Jay

Well, let’s dig into that in just a minute. Go back to that morning. You start working at the NSA. Later that day, the attacks took place. How long is it after that, that you see what the NSA actually had? That they actually knew what was coming? 

Thomas Drake

There’s a whole story here and multiple threads. This is clearly a crisis that was not just a basic world crisis. This is something far, far larger. Within hours, in fact, rumors were already being whispered. Hours and days following the actual attack, the dropping of the two World Trade Center towers, obviously the hitting of one of the planes into the Pentagon. We know, Shanksville, but that ended up because of the passengers actually taking action themselves. So, that was headed for D.C. as well; reportedly, it was headed for the capital building.

I knew you end up looking into Pandora’s box, and it’s opening up in front of you. Now you’re seeing evidence that actually shows what the government is starting to do in response to the failure to provide for the common defense. A whole series of super-secret executive decisions were being made that I became familiar with, within days and weeks of 9/11. It culminated in a confrontation that I had with the lead attorney in the office of General Council NSA. I literally said, what are we doing, violating the law? What are we doing, essentially suspending the Constitution and just setting it aside? He said, you don’t understand, Mr. Drake. The White House has approved the program; that’s what it was referred to internally.

Paul Jay

That’s the Mass Surveillance Program?

Thomas Drake

Yes, and it is all legal. It is clear that the verbal authority had already been given, to go way over the lines that were drawn, based on a whole lot of stuff that came out during the 1970s. It led to two standing intelligence committees to quote, unquote, provide oversight on the secret side of government, as well as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. It went into law, signed by the President at the time, Jimmy Carter. This is all supposed to — because of the violations and outright brazen violations of the Constitution and the Fourth Amendment. Of course, now it’s 9/11, and they were just looking for any excuse to set aside all of those constraints, anything that would bind the government, even in secret, in terms of what it could or couldn’t do. This enormous power of the NSA was actually unleashed, and all the existing constraints were essentially lifted. 

I did not know at the time, I found out later, the week that I confronted the Office of General Counsel, although he did not tell me this at the time, Bush actually signed a super-secret presidential finding executive order giving the NSA full authorization to conduct — I can only call it mass surveillance. It goes by other euphemisms, but essentially the United States would now be regarded as no different than a foreign nation for the purposes of electronic surveillance.

So if necessary, NSA, which was in partnership with certain telcos, some of these arrangements, which already pre-existed 9/11, some of the most secret of the state secrets of the United States were greatly expanded on in the aftermath of 9/11. A vast amount of data was pouring into the NSA, or being provided to the NSA, or being given access to the NSA because the whole thing was we just need the data. They could be anywhere; we just need the data. The fear and then the response, the extraordinary overreach, was it doesn’t matter who has the data. It doesn’t matter whether the data is supposedly protected or not. It doesn’t matter what the rights of people are or not. We just need the data. So the obsession was, and I will call it obsession, it was wherever we can get data, we’re going to get it because we want to make sure we don’t miss anything. It’s one of the great ironies of 9/11.

Paul Jay

Well, that they actually had the data.

Thomas Drake

They actually did have the data.

Paul Jay

So when did you become aware of them? What did you see? And what did you think when you saw it? You’re looking at it and saying, what they had it.

Thomas Drake

I still shutter because I quickly discovered what NSA actually knew, but the NSA went into it just like Watergate. It wasn’t so much the crime, in this case, the crime of not keeping people. You’re not keeping people out of harm’s way. Now you’re going to actually violate their rights as an excuse under the blankets of national security.

I found out within just days and weeks, precisely what information — and in the following months, as this whole thing began to metastasize behind the scenes, behind the veil of secrecy, especially national security, that huge blanket — I began to find out and discover, and ironically enough, in part, I was also tasked — because there was this whole question. Why did we let this happen? How could 9/11 — we have this massive intelligence complex, mass security complex that was created formally in 1947 during the first part of the Cold War. How could we have allowed this to happen? I mean, you would think, right? You would think.

I discovered that NSA had critical intelligence regarding the plot that was not in fact known, or parts that were known, but was not shared with those who could do something about it.

Paul Jay

Or, as the clip I played suggests, the normal channels of reporting were bypassed, and the normal channel reporting would have been to Richard Clarke, who’s supposed to have been the anti-terrorism czar. We now know, both from you and from other interviews I’ve done, that Cheney had created his own channels. He had a bad channel —

Thomas Drake

I’m the first to acknowledge that. I actually spoke to someone in that channel early on. The horror of finding out what was actually going on. Except that channel was corrupted. It was complete confirmation bias. It was simply — we’re talking cherry-picked intelligence, or simply satisfying Cheney’s obsessive need to find anything that was a, quote, unquote smoking gut. This led to strategic decisions that never should have been done. We did not have to invade and occupy Afghanistan. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. The horrific tragedy and the umpteenth tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people that ended up being killed. It was all unnecessary. It was considered to be what was necessary in response to 9/11. There were people literally in the highest level, including in that channel, I’ll just say the Cheney channel, who simply wanted revenge. All they were — we just need to pound people into the ground. We need to punish whoever. It doesn’t matter. You have to remember Bush was making statements at Harvard saying, it wasn’t just individual terrorists; it was entire countries.

Paul Jay

When I interviewed Bob Graham, we talked directly about Bush and Cheney’s role. I said to him, ‘Are we talking about directly facilitating a culture within the intelligence agencies that created the silos?’ I believe in a later interview with him after I had talked to you, and you talked about the backchannel concept, I asked him quite specifically, ‘Was this after 9/11 or before?’ He said primarily before. The role of Bush and Cheney and facilitating the attacks, primarily, were before 9/11. Afterward, it’s about cover-up, cover-up the role. 

Thomas Drake

No, an argument can be made that he was looking for an excuse. I’m just telling you, in terms of intelligence apparatus, counterterrorism was not a priority. Richard Clarke himself was incredibly frustrated. He also got cut out, as you implied or more than implied, but it was not a priority. I can tell it was all backwater. The intelligence community was still looking for the next threat. They did not consider asymmetric threats to be real threats, despite the horrific events that had already proceeded 9/11. You had Kenya, Tanzania. You had Khobar towers. You had the coal bombing and a number of other terrorist incidents that should have been a huge wake-up call.

It’s true Cheney himself going in, they did not trust the traditional — I’m going to say traditional in quotes, the intelligence community. He had a lot of experience in government. So he was going to carve out, essentially, his own channels. Well, that actually made the problem worse. I have to tell you that. It really did. Ironically enough, it cut off a lot of the critical intelligence that was actually available in terms of the plot.

Paul Jay

Well, Graham, whose Co-Chair of the 9/11 Congressional Committee, was Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He told me, in no uncertain terms, it’s all by design. They wanted the chaos between the various intelligence agencies.

Thomas Drake

Yes, I’m not disagreeing. You create these very conditions in which surprise occurs. You create the very conditions in which you’re looking for something that you can take advantage of. I actually was a material eyewitness. A material eyewitness for the Joint Inquiry; that was the combined Intel Committee Inquiry into 9/11. As I was told later, what I gave that committee, hours and hours, and thousands of pages of documentation, I was deposed. I was told later that what I provided to the committee was so secret that it couldn’t even be in the secret report.

There was a massive, massive effort to cover up what the government actually knew, should have known, and didn’t do with what was known in regards to the plot. They literally covered up their own irresponsibility, their own unaccountability, and how they were not going to let some — even though I was a Senior Executive reporting to the number three, they were not going to let someone upset all that. Obviously, that meant these were dirty secrets that, even within the secrecy arena, we couldn’t really talk about. There is no record other than I was interviewed. There is no record of my testimony. The last time anybody tried to track this down, they were told by the Select Senate Committee that it was with the National Archive. This is like Indiana Jones, where you see in the warehouse it’s in a box. Then it turns left and disappears. That evidence was very, incredibly deep.

Also, I’ll just share this because it’s little known. There is actually a full scale, what do we actually know, and what do we need to hide effort at NSA. It was a multi-volume study. It’s the one thing, of all the things I was able to discover, uncover, find, hook or by crook, even through internal whistleblowers at the NSA, not just myself, others that were greatly concerned about how far and off the rails we were going. I never got a copy of it, other than I made direct reference to it to the investigators. They, as I understand, were never able to get a copy of it either. This should tell you something. It should tell you how far NSA, even itself, was willing to go to keep actual evidence of what it should have known and what it actually did know, in terms of its own culpability with respect to 9/11.

Paul Jay

Because if your report, your testimony had been in the report, the obvious question would have been, why haven’t you asked the leadership of the NSA? Did you tell anybody this? The argument that there’s so much data coming in and how could you keep track of it all? You said the analysts were pulling their hair out screaming; why hasn’t this been reported? Why isn’t something made of what we’ve got?

Thomas Drake

You can imagine, a whole lot of people are coming — this is after 9/11, I’m now in at NSA. They’re coming to me because that was part of my job at the time. They’re coming to me with evidence of things that they have been working on, including formal reports. Yet, it was never released for a wider distribution beyond NSA.

I remember — again, this is another one of the events where I shiver and get goosebumps on. I confronted my supervisor, the number three, Maureen Baginski, with this report, and she got incredibly upset with me. She says I wish you had never brought this to my attention. Why? Because she would not have plausible deniability that it existed. When, in fact, I was actually bringing it to her attention. They did not want anybody to know what was, in fact, known.

Look, this is early on. I mean, we’re talking just in those weeks, right after 9/11. What I haven’t shared yet is several months later, I was able to wrangle up a couple of a million dollars. There was phenomenal technology that was never put into the fight because it was internal corporate politics. The best of NSA had actually solved the big data problem. I can tell you that right now. We actually ended up taking one of these technologies, greatly expanding it rapidly — back when I was doing system and software engineering. We actually took this program and actually pointed it at NSA’s main databases. This is the collection database. So there’s a whole slew of them going by various names. We actually turned it on, and it was incredible what was discovered. This is something I’ve actually talked about it in the past. Even more information, as we went into the core of NSA collection databases, what NSA should have been able to find out or discover. Again, it wasn’t a priority. We started to report it, and guess what happened? It was shut down.

Paul Jay

This idea that this kind of attack, and so on, wasn’t a priority. The Bush administration was more concerned about Russia, China, and this and that, big power politics. I don’t buy it. The reason I don’t buy it is because we now know with certainty that the real priority was the invasion of Iraq. That was always the plan. If that was always the plan, it wasn’t about big power rivalry. It was, how do you get the American people to go for an invasion of Iraq?

Thomas Drake

Well, no. That’s where the Cheney network clearly received incredibly biased spun intelligence to actually provide the excuse that Iraq was the big, big threat and we had to invade, and then some. It could just be what the first Bush had done. Under the second Bush, we are just going to take out the Saddam [Hussein] period and occupy Iraq. No, it’s clear.

Again, having been there, we took the eye off the ball, even going after Osama bin Laden. All kinds of assets that were in Afghanistan pursuing Osama bin Laden actually got redirected. There’s enough that’s come out in intervening years, even ten years ago, the incredible frustration of even some of the special forces, and I’m just saying special forces in quotes, that critical resources were not being provided to sustain their efforts because we’re going to go into Iraq.

Paul Jay

I know I was in Afghanistan. I made a film in Afghanistan in the spring of 2002, and I interviewed a guy who was on the Central Council of the Taliban or had been; he quit. One of the things he told me is that the Central Council actually did vote to hand over bin Laden in a meeting, against the wishes of Mullah Omar. Then a second meeting is called with a senior representative of the Pakistani government who talks them into not turning bin Laden over. One can only assume they didn’t want a show trial. He also told me one morning, not long after that meeting, something like 20-25 or so, beautiful new white pickup trucks and SUVs, calmly drove out of Kandahar heading for Tora Bora with bin Laden and his gang. Anybody could have seen it. You didn’t even need a satellite, and of course, he wasn’t touched.

Thomas Drake

It raises any number of questions. It really does. In fact, remember, there’s the famous [Donald] Rumsfeld; we don’t negotiate surrender. The Taliban, actually, were willing — shortly thereafter, were willing to surrender, but the last thing we were going to enter into was any kind of arrangements. This is part of the tragedy. I don’t how else to say it. It’s stunning — the myopia, the extraordinary hubris that was being displayed by the Rumsfeld’s of the world.

Iraq, there is no question, Iraq took on far greater import and importance, in terms of political-military policy, we’re going to go in and then Afghanistan. It became America’s longest war, but the fact remains it took ten years before we actually, quote, unquote took out Osama bin Laden. Yet he was considered to be the ring leader, the master inspirator to call him that, in terms of the plot behind 9/11. You have to forget, and you have to also — 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi Arabian. This has now come back again. Biden has claimed they’re going to review a long classified intelligence with respect to, quote, unquote FBI investigations of Saudi involvement. This is another thing that has been carefully protected over the intervening years is actual Saudi involvement.

Paul Jay

Well, that was in Bob Graham’s final report. They had this famous 28 pages that were redacted, finally came out, and even the ones that came out were again largely redacted. Graham was absolutely convinced that Prince Bandar, who was the Saudi ambassador to Washington, not only facilitated it with money, they had actual phone connections between Bandar and a Ranch Bandar owned that had a connection to some of the people that ended up on the airplanes. They had all kinds of Saudi ties. Everyone knows Bandar’s nickname was Bandar Bush. There’s this famous photograph of him and George Bush on the terrace of the White House smoking cigars two days after 9/11 with more or less smiles on their face.

One of the things Graham told me when I suggested to him or asked him was, was this a culture of not wanting to know created amongst the agencies? Was there a deliberate siloing of information by design from Cheney? He said, yes, but he says it went beyond that. He gave me an example, which I thought was astounding. After I did this interview with Graham, I offered my interview, the video, to all the news organizations of any size for free. All they had to do was give me credit, but nobody would touch it. On camera, he says that when the CIA memo of bin Laden’s plan to attack America, when that comes out, and the CIA gives it, and Condoleezza Rice has it, it goes to Bush, he said, in the normal course of things, in the next day or two, there’s something called a Principles Briefing. Anything in the Presidential Briefing that might have to be acted on for national security interests by any of the agencies should be in the Principles Briefing. If the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] has to raise a level of alert, or you name it. He says that in the Principles Briefing following the Presidential Briefing, it was omitted from the CIA report of bin Laden’s plan to attack America. He says that has to be a very conscious decision because, in any normal course of the protocol, it should have been in the Principles Briefing.

Thomas Drake

I completely agree. It’s just interesting even seeing some of the documentaries that are being broadcasted in both mainstream media as well as others. There’s a whole lot that’s being avoided or is not included. This is extremely uncomfortable. You can imagine if you’re deliberately withholding actual intelligence, and this is partly what I live with for the rest of my life, is the what-ifs of history, then you have corrupted the system. There is no objectivity; you’re actually using it to manipulate and justify the means.

The means here can easily be twisted, and enormous pressure to either downplay or leave off to the side, anything that actually may require real action, particularly when you have other principles involved where you can’t keep it close hold or too close hold. You actually have to share what is known, that actually ends up demanding action, executive action based on the intelligence.

I used to be part of a system in the Cold War, a critic system where if it was that critical, the information, the intelligence had to end up no later than 10 minutes from the time it was identified to landing on the President’s desk. It was an entire system that was set up. So this idea that you can’t get the right intelligence to the President and what was referred to as the Command Authority at the time. That’s not actually true. There’s a special system that was set up. Unfortunately, if you’re going to use it to preclude or to downplay, then guess what? You open up the system to corruption at the highest levels and the intelligence manipulated for your own ends. I’m the first to acknowledge that Cheney, in particular, and others, but they were looking for an excuse and that all went down on 9/11. It didn’t really matter.

This is, to me, one of the grand ironies here. It didn’t matter what was actually known. It didn’t matter that what was known, in fact, came out or what could have been known, actually came out, and 9/11 happened. It’s American acceptableism; we now can do whatever we feel like. Remember, the global war on terror literally defined the entire globe as a battlefield. There were no boundaries for all intents and purposes. There were no restrictions. There were no constraints. It was whatever you could get away with. This led to massive mission creep, massive mission creep. All of the words of planting democracy in the Middle East, all that is just hokum. It really is. That was partly the pablum that you give to the masses to accept what the government is doing as justified.

Paul Jay

There’s two things here. I’ll start with one, then a second. The defense of the imperial presidency, the striving to maintain global hegemony becomes far more important than even a deliberate attempt to allow or facilitate 9/11. By there, I’m talking about President Obama because it’s under Obama, if I understand it correctly, where you get pursued alongside many other whistleblowers. But most importantly, Obama knows, has to know, because Bob Graham knows and I know, Obama has got to know a lot more. He has to know how Cheney and Bush manipulated the system, and 9/11 takes place. A completely illegal War, at least under international law, but also really under American law, takes place in Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of people are killed.

Thomas Drake


Paul Jay

But the importance of not bringing Cheney and Bush to account for real war crimes. It’s more important to defend the imperial presidency because if you start going after them, you open up — talk about a Pandora’s box. The fabric of lies that the national security state has been built on, right from 1947. 

Thomas Drake

I’m well aware of that, and this is the total hypocrisy of the Cheney’s and the Bush’s. They are war criminals. I’m the first to acknowledge that. They have never been held to account. They claim they did all this in the best interest of the country when, in fact, hegemony was the priority. It didn’t matter who got swept up. Better to take it overseas as sort of the George Orwell. [inaudible 00:48:22] is always at war with somebody. So obviously, if we can keep the war elsewhere, we don’t have to worry about it coming back home. Quote, unquote coming back home.

You’ve heard this argument even 20 years later; oh, we haven’t had a 9/11 since 9/11, as a reason why all this is justified. It’s extraordinary. Just by saying we haven’t had another 9/11, as if everything that was done since 9/11 is completely justified because no other 9/11 has ever occurred. Wow, that is an incredibly simplistic way of looking at all this. Umpteen, trillions, and trillions. I mean, it’s extraordinary. The human cost alone is the tragedy. In terms of all of this, the treasure that’s been expended. You can imagine what could have been done with all of this, in terms of the general welfare, as opposed to the national security state. But that took priority. We decided that wherever we decided, where ever we chose to facilitate the global war on terror, whatever, wherever we took action, it was completely justified. It did not matter who got swept up, and it didn’t matter who got killed. It was all justified because of 9/11.

The irony for me, this is historical irony, it was fundamentally a failure of the central government to provide for the common defense, did not keep 2,977 souls out of harm’s way that day. That never actually should have happened. So that sacrifice of almost 3,000 people that day, that weighs so heavily on me for the rest of my life, again, the what-ifs of history, justifies everything else that happened after that. We’ve paid an enormous price, and now you see where we, quote, unquote are leaving Afghanistan. We evacuated, you say we lost Afghanistan, and yet we still have a massive presence overseas. This is George Orwell going, so we’re going to pivot to China. There is something that’s the perverse incentive to facilitate a war economy. We’re giving more money to the Pentagon than ever to keep all this going. I’m well aware of how few people —it is a small elite who are making massive amounts of money simply off conflict or the potential for conflict and being driven by fear. In the process — the Republic that I took an oath and swore to defend, there’s not much of it left. All empires end up being ground into the dust bins of history. There is no get out of history free card for the United States of America.

Someone like me, standing up to power, ends up being massively abused by that same power because the last thing they want is to be held to account. Even when they are held to account, the catch 22 is we have the power. What are you going to do about it? Remember, I saw this under Obama. I mean, people thought that Bush had so overreached and Obama was the anti-Bush, and he was going to actually quote, unquote, bring us back. Well, if anything, he actually expanded. He never did shut down GTMO [Guantanamo Bay Naval Base]. He expanded the mass surveillance regime, legalized, greatly expanded drone warfare and our wars overseas. He ended up, even before he got started, winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

You may have seen some of the interviews, even on mainstream media, on some of these documentaries. They’ve interviewed people like Alberto Gonzales who were even dismissing — that somehow we’re exempt from the Geneva Conventions. Really? Wow, because what we’re America?

Paul Jay

You talk about the trillions that have been spent. Maybe that was the whole point? I interviewed Larry Wilkerson, who was Colin Powells Chief of Staff —

Thomas Drake

I know him well.

Paul Jay

Larry said the coin that really dropped for him, what just really turned his head around, is when he realized this actually was all about money-making. The Iraq war, the rest, all high-sounding objectives, it was banal. It was about money-making.

I was just reading about this woman a few years ago, Bunny Greenhouse, who’s in the Contracts Division at the Pentagon, who finds out that Cheneys — not long after he left Halliburton, but he still owns stock. Halliburton gets a seven billion dollar, no-bid contract to restructure Iraq’s oil industry prior to the invasion of Iraq. Cheney’s engineering a seven billion dollar contract for his former firm that he still has some ties to. Obama does nothing about any of this.

I got to say, this isn’t about the morality or evilness of Obama or even the Bush and Cheney in all this. It’s what you said earlier. It’s the very structure of the militarization of the economy that gives such power —and then something else has happened in the economy. This is over the last, perhaps 20-25 years, but particularly since 07/08—the extent to which the financial sector now owns and controls the military-industrial sector. You look at who owns the big arms manufacturer, and it’s the big asset companies like BlackRock, Vanguard, and all the banks. This merger of power into finance, which includes the military — like, to me, it’d be a no-brainer. If you’re going to have a need for arms manufacturing, shouldn’t it be publicly owned, and there you take the profit motive out of war? But of course, the profit motive kind of is —

Thomas Drake

You talk about the profit motive. Look, NSA, when I was there in those days and weeks after 9/11, the workforce — the manager, Senior Manager referred to as a workforce. These are the people doing the real work of NSA, the quiet, silent workers. They were just doing their job. No one’s ever going to know them. No one’s going to be interviewed. They’re not going to be going to the press or anything like that. They realized we had failed the nation, and they took it really, really hard. I was going around campus with Maureen Baginski, and she said, no, you don’t understand. NSA is a gift; 9/11 is a gift to NSA. We’ll get all the money we want and then some. Wow, that was the priority. It didn’t matter that it was a failure. It didn’t matter what NSA knew, or could have known, or should have known. We were now going to get all the money we wanted, then some.

I still remember, just to give you a really, just right there in your face example that demonstrates exactly what we’re talking about. In terms of the extraordinary corrupting influence of massive amounts of money, even within the Intelligence Committee, which is part of the military-industrial complex. The thing that [Dwight D.] Eisenhower warned us about, I was the 50th of NSA secret creation. Remember, it was never actually created by legislation signed into law. It was literally created by a stroke of a secret pen, held by Harry S. Truman, in the fall of 1952. This is the 50th anniversary. It’s in the fall of 2002, and you can imagine it was all done up. We’re all dressed up. The military is in their Class A uniforms. They had bands and everything else, flags, and all of the principles, former directors, very senior people were there. The head table included [Michael] Hayden, who is the then director of the NSA, George Tenet. There were a number of presentations, all talking about the same old thing. There was a part of which, where one of the House Intel Committee staff managers, was holding one of these — looks like a Publisher’s Weekly, the mass of this gigantic cheque. Hayden is up there with him on stage, on the dais, right up there as he’s handing him — and we’re talking about a cheque with nine zeroes, and then on the left of those nine zeroes is a number. We’re talking multiple billions. They are being plus-upped for NSA.

I couldn’t hear Hayden’s words, but I had a direct line to just seeing him, from where I was sitting in the back. He’s looking down at Tenet, then back up at the cheque, pointing in the back to Tenet. He’s basically saying, George, I got my money. This is the only thing that matters. We used to joke about people belling up to this extraordinary bar where look, I had people, and I realized the temptations are enormous. Create a company, hire a few people. You could become an instant millionaire practically overnight because there’s that much money that was being poured into the Intelligence Committee. As if money was actually going to solve the problem. No, it was actually to keep the problem going. So, you have to keep the money flowing, and the more, the better.

So why would there be any accountability? You were perversely incentivized to not solve any of the problems the NSA would speak about, in terms of the world, keeping people out of harm’s way, the data problem, and how do you know what asymmetric threats are all about? Nope, we just want the money. So, yeah, if it’s a big data problem, we just need big money. What are you going to do? You’re going to further the hegemony on this type of structure. There is no incentive to reduce it. There’s no incentive to cut it back. Too many careers are at stake. Too much profit motive is at stake. All you have to do is look at the major defense. I’ve gotten, perhaps, even more strident as the years have gone on, but what are we actually creating here long term? I think we know.

All that money poured into Afghanistan for all the so-called aspirational goals; we never achieved that. You even find out that the money was set aside for the general welfare; most of those are all blazing saddles, just all fronts. Just to find a place to put the money because there was so much of it going around.

So why should anybody be surprised by the institutionalization of corruption here, on an incredibly vast scale? In a historical context, it reminds me of the fall of the Roman Empire. It just does.

Paul Jay

I’m working on a project with Daniel Ellsberg. I’m doing a documentary series based on his book, Domesday Machine. In one of the interviews I conducted with him, he said he’s come to the conclusion that the entire Cold War was essentially the rationale for the subsidization of the American aerospace industry. After World War Two, they had so much capacity after building all the military that if there wasn’t a mass of militarization, they would have collapsed, and they needed the existential enemy. 

Thomas Drake

Exactly. I was part of it. I mean, Ellsberg was part of it. I’ve had long conversations with him in the past, not recently, but in the past, going into great depth about this.

Paul Jay

Have you ever heard of a guy named Lester Earnest?

Thomas Drake

I have not.

Paul Jay

This is a fantastic story. I’m one of the few people that know this story. I’m going to interview him again. I have an interview with him. He got out of the Armed Forces in the late 50s. Computer technologist, one of the earliest. He goes to MIT [Massaschussets Institute of Technology] to work on the Sage radar system. With this massive gathering of computer power that’s going to track Soviet bombers and then shoot Bomarc missiles at them.

So he’s there about a week, and he tells me that he turns to one of his colleagues and he says, how did you guys solve the radar jamming problem? There’s a long silence. Well, we don’t talk about that. It never works. Not for a day. A trillion dollars over 25 years, and I asked him, how do you keep doing it? He says we all got so cynical. We were all making so much money. That you just figure, if I don’t do it, someone else will do it. It’s all going to shit anyway. You go along.

Thomas Drake

I decided not to go along. I realized — Ellsberg and I have talked about this. He thought a lot more people would step up in terms of Vietnam. He realized that very few people did, other than [Anthony] Russo. No one else stood up along with them. Many, many people knew what he knew in terms of the bright and shining light of Vietnam and everything behind it.

You have to remember, Cheney — when [Ronald] Reagan became President. You got to go back in terms of Cheney’s own history, Reagan’s administration became the opening wedge to claw back all of those, quote, unquote lost powers, that had been constrained or locked down further because of all the scandals and all the exposure from the 1970s’, which is a period of my own civic awakening as a tween, then-teenager. Seeing all this unfold, including the resignation of the President. Cheney was definitely going to do everything he could in terms of his life’s work to restore the imperial presidency. The outcomes we see today are a result of actions that were taken, starting under the Reagan Administration.

Paul Jay

Including, one should say, Trump. Because if you look at Trump’s election campaign, and basically everything, including the alliance with the right-wing Christian nationalist, all starts under Reagan. The whole model is Reagan. Including all of the ties with the military-industrial complex that Reagan was the face for.

Thomas Drake

[inaudible 01:04:10] beholden to who. This gets into cui bono; who benefits? It’s pretty clear who benefits. So why would you disturb all that? The heck with everybody else? It doesn’t matter. I mean, you talk about a state welfare system, my gosh, it’s guaranteed billions every year. I saw that myself, during the post-Cold War period where I even got up to the management level of Booz Allen Hamilton, it didn’t matter what you were selling. You could actually sell it several times over to multiple government agencies because there was that much money. You’re also seeing the revolving door. You’re seeing one of the former directors of NSA, actually is a classic example of that. He used to be the head of the J2. Then he became head of the NSA. Then he went to Booz Allen. Then he became the director of National Intelligence, then back to Booz Allen.

They’re being incredibly rewarded as long as they continue to adhere to the corporate line, to the mass security establishment line. There’s no way you’re going to question whether or not any of this has real value, other than the value to yourself and sustaining it all.

Ultimately, it doesn’t even matter. Look at the F 35. It’s an incredible base, the total cost of the F 35. Trillion and a half. No one really knows. The Pentagon has never been fully audited after all of these many, many years. Just here’s the money, go do what you want with it. 

Paul Jay

Okay. Help me understand something because I’ve always thought Tony Soprano is a pretty good model for how all this operates. You might have some principles, you care about your own family, but everybody else is expendable to you. It’s just business. It’s not personal. It’s just business.

Thomas Drake

Oh, yeah.

Paul Jay

Okay, I get all that. Here’s what I don’t get, and maybe you can help me understand. These guys at the senior levels of the military-industrial complex who say, it’s all the system. If I don’t make the money, somebody else will make it. So I’ll do it. But I don’t get how they’re willing to risk the apocalypse of this massive development of nuclear weapons. Everyone I’ve talked to that really knows it, thinks it’s inevitable, and someday we’re going to blow ourselves up if this continues. I don’t think even Tony Soprano would invest in something that would likely blow his own family up.

Thomas Drake

But look at how far we went with mutually assured destruction. Just think about MAD. It was the MAD principle, that we wouldn’t be mad enough as much as we were bristling with weapons, pointed at each other that we would actually — I’m just telling you, even when I was in, how close we came to accidental war through a nuclear exchange, or the possibility of it. There’s a number of incidents that, in fact, we came very, very close right up to the line. This is something Ellsberg himself has been incredibly concerned about.

Yeah, we’re not rational creatures. That’s part of the issue here. This is where you get into; how cynical do you want to get? Are we capable of, quote, unquote saving ourselves? Or do we just continue to devolve just based on technology and these establishments and ending up in a situation where we hold everybody hostage? Or everybody else is held hostage to massive misuse and abuse of power? I think it’s an open question, and he gets into what future do we really want to keep? It’s certainly a future that I don’t want to keep. That’s not a future that I want to live in. I’ve already lived enough of an Orwellian future to know on the surveillance side. What does it mean when a government comes after you with all their guns blazing, in some cases, almost literally. What happens when they abuse the court system and paint you as, essentially, a trader, enemy of the state. What happens when they say that you’re actually worse than a spy?

Paul Jay

All of which happened to you.

Thomas Drake

 — crime against, because you committed crimes against the state for revealing state crimes. Wow. So it’s actually a crime to report a state crime. Okay. Wow. But you are the one that gets punished. Look, I came this close to ending up in prison. People don’t realize how close I came. Fortunate because of publicity. Fortunate because of the judge. Fortunately, because of certain lawyers that I had, who were able to hold them off, and I ended up pleading out. I’m one of the very few that’s been able to stay free, as much as I was under the gun for so many years.

Paul Jay

But if I understand it correctly, you’ve never been able to get employment at your level of skill and experience.

Thomas Drake

No, that’s a whole subtext. Even Ellsberg himself tried to with his connections. He came back to me, this is several months later, and was like, embarrassed. This was Ellsberg saying, Tom, no one wants to touch you. He knew why, but he was just surprised. Even though I went free and didn’t end up as a felon in prison, for many, many years, no one wanted to touch me. I was that much of a persona non grata. I guess if you want to call it that. As a PNG, it’s true. Where I work — I still work. I don’t talk about it much, but I still work for Apple, but I don’t make anywhere near what I used to make.

Paul Jay

I got to say one thing, for all the critique of the big tech companies, I think something good that Apple did [crosstalk 01:10:26] I give them credit for that.

Thomas Drake

It’s probably why I’m still there, in part. Although, I’m rapidly coming up on what you would refer to as Social Security retirement. I have other interests in life, and I’ve just dedicated the rest of my life, going back several years, to defending life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Those extraordinary aspirational words in the Declaration of Independence, which really was the basis for the American Republic. Here we’ve come 230-240 years later, and where are we?

It was always a grand experiment; that’s all it was. There were no certainties. For all the faults and foibles of even the Constitution, a whole lot of things got kicked down. Cans were kicked down the road. I have seen what I call the devolution of our Republic since 9/11 on an extraordinary scale. I’m just not sure if we can — we’re certainly not exempt from history. What does it mean? The American century was created post World War Two. If you take the long view here, no empire has ever been able to sustain itself. We still have archaeological digs on empires that exhausted themselves millennia ago.

What are we going to say millennia from now? Or let’s go to the 23rd century? Star Trek, right? The 23rd century, and look back.

Paul Jay

Unfortunately, because of the same mentality that governs the arms industry, it governs fossil fuel and our whole approach to climate. I don’t think we’re getting to that century to look back the way things are going.

Thomas Drake

Can we even survive that long? I mean, these pie in the sky think we are going to go to Mars. Sure, yeah. Or in the movie Elysium, the elite are going to go and create their own world above the world. Sure, yeah.

Paul Jay

They may be dreaming that, but they’re dreaming that in technicolor. Well, look, Tom, there is a phrase that I usually despise, and that’s when people tell soldiers, thank you for your service. It’s so riddled with hypocrisy, sending children off to die in these pointless wars. In your case, I actually could say it with some conviction. Thank you for your standing up. There are a few of you that have done it. Ellsberg keeps asking more whistleblowers to come forward. So let me just echo, anyone watching this, certainly at the NSA, I guess keep track of these sorts of things. We need more, a few. We need more Snowdens. So hopefully, there will be some more because ordinary Americans really have to get the fabric of life.

There’s such astounding in various urban circles. Why do people believe in QANON? Why all this crazy belief in conspiracies? Well, one of the reasons is not only how bad the public education system is, but how much of the official narrative of post-World War Two history is a fabric of bullshit.

Thomas Drake

Yes. Most of it is fabricated. It’s a narrative. It’s very difficult to have a counter-narrative because the establishment narrative is considered to be the history. We’re the ones that define what that is. Part of the problem with an empire, and we are an empire as much as people don’t like to say America’s Empire, we are. Then you are going to lead much of the real history because you’re an Empire. Why would you want to embarrass yourself with the things that are unsavory, including your own history?

I can look at this sort of again, historical ironies. Or maybe history doesn’t necessarily repeat itself, but it does rhyme. We may end up in the same place as the Roman Empire. We may end up in the same place as Alexander the Great. We may end up in the same place as Genghis Khan, or the British Empire. Maybe that is in part some of the hope, but we got to remember Pandora’s box is full of theories. In terms of Greek mythology, at the bottom of it — this is something that I continue to hold on to, even though hope is not a strategy, lies hope. Hope is at the bottom of Pandora’s box.

I guess I wouldn’t even be having this interview with you, Jay if I didn’t think there was no hope left and it was just hopeless. Why would I even be bothered? I’ve had people tell me, Tom, you paid enough price. You just go off into the sunset, go fishing. You still got quite a few decades of your own life ahead of you. I could not stand by and become complicit in a crime. That my own country, my own government, and I ended up having to defend a piece of paper. Defending the Constitution against my own government, starting from within. That is not lost on me in terms of history and standing up.

Now, some people said none of it mattered, and it was all a waste of time and everything else. But then how else? I mean, this is where that long arc of history again, the hope. It doesn’t take a majority, basically a small minority. Margaret Mead writes it doesn’t take a whole lot of people in standing on that long arc of history and helping it bend towards justice. I’d like to add in mercy.

I realize there is a bit of rose-colored glasses here. I’m the first to acknowledge it, that I do tend to take on more of a Gene Roddenberry view, that we can get past all this eventually. I really do think that there are some real trials and tribulations ahead of us, and I’ll just say it as sort of a plural for us as a human species.

Paul Jay

Thanks very much for joining me. And thank you for joining us on Please don’t forget there’s a donate button at the top of the website. If you’re watching on YouTube subscribe. Most importantly, share this with everybody you know, and sign up on the email list. Thanks again. Come back again to 



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  1. Thank you, gentlemen. You know, Thomas, you got me thinking about the darkest, most hopeless moments of my life. Those were the moments where, left with nothing but injustice, I could say to myself that I’d rather be me, with all that I value, than be “them”— those who profit from lies and deception. That’s what I see in you when you say, “I wouldn’t go there.” Ellsberg is correct. We need more like you to come forward.

  2. Thank you for this!

    The truth, or something like it, is in the 9/11 Commission Report. The marine with the “nuclear football” saw the second plane hit from the secret service control area next to where the Preznit “read” to little kids. He said, “Let’s go.” And the senior S.S. agent said, “No, we hod here for 30 minutes before we go to the airport.” The Prez in a long publicly disclosed location, full of kids. The dog that did not bark. They knew the scope of the attack.

    Yet, we needed no reason to invade Iraq or Afghanistan. The target was the mind, and like JFK/Oswarld, the intention to shatter the populace and conscience. Accept what is not true: deepen trance. Explain until you believe it: deepen trance. Disbelieve it and create unsupported answers, court madness. Disbelieve and witness social manipulation: deepen sense of helplessness. The ludicrous story and absurd breadcrumbs are tools to create tension. Gladiogladiogladio… Demonstrate to other controllers of global population our social control skills.

    All we can do is resist and laugh at the turds.

    Thank you for even discussing the topic with a critical eye.

    Much love (Franti Faction)

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