Brexit won’t harm UK security, says US former spy chief

William Binney, former intelligence official of the US National Security Agency turned whistleblower. Photograph: Adam Berry/Getty Images
William Binney, former intelligence official of the US National Security Agency turned whistleblower. Photograph: Adam Berry/Getty Images
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Brexit will not make “one bit of difference” to Britain’s intelligence relationship with the rest of Europe and the US, according to a former senior official with the National Security Agency.

William Binney, a technical director for the US intelligence agency turned whistleblower, said GCHQ will continue to share data and resources with organisations around the world following Britain’s retreat from the EU.

A light tribute in New York marks the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. Photograph: Getty

A light tribute in New York marks the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. Photograph: Getty

In an interview with Scotland on Sunday, Binney also warned that the UK Government’s Investigatory Powers Bill is a guarantee of “failure” that will overlook intelligence about future terror attacks.

The veteran intelligence official will be in Edinburgh this week for the UK premiere of A Good American, a documentary about his time in the NSA, which he believes could have prevented the 11 September, 2001, terror attacks.

He spearheaded the development of ThinThread, a selective surveillance programme which, he says, would have flagged up the perpetrators of 9/11, but the system was jettisoned in favour of Trailblazer, a “bulk data” collection scheme that left analysts overwhelmed. Binney, who left the agency shortly afterwards, was later arrested at gunpoint by the FBI and the NSA withdrew his security clearance – which led him to go public with his concerns.

“We knew from members of staff at the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that the industries that were competing for contracts for Trailblazer were in congressional committees, lobbying against our programme and trying to get it cancelled,” he said.

“They wanted to get rid of competition and get access to all the money that they would give to NSA.”

Money and the consolidation of power, Binney believes, are the guiding principles of not only the NSA, but GCHQ. “We should fire everyone in office and get new people in who will indict them and get them to explain in an open court what they did and why they did it. It’s a mass effort, but we need to do it worldwide, otherwise we’re going to lose our democracies.

Binney said that in terms of intelligence, a post-Brexit Britain would be unchanged. “The Five Eyes alliance has had such a close relationship since the Second World War, there’s not going to be any impact,” he said. “The NSA has funded a lot of the work GCHQ is doing, not just at Menwith Hill, but at Bude and other places. They’re in bed together.”

He warned the UK’s so-called ‘Snooper’s Charter’ would lead to people being “killed” because data would not be properly scrutinised.

“If they insist on going down this path, they ought to agree every time there is a terrorist attack that is not stopped, they cut their budget by 10 per cent,” he added. “That means that if they have ten failures, they’re out of business.

“I can’t understand why governments continue to take this approach. If you consistently fail time and time again, common sense tells you you must be doing something wrong.”

The UK premiere of A Good American takes place at Edinburgh’s Filmhouse on Thursday as part of the Take One Action! Film Festival.