Segments in this Video

Verax: Truth Teller (03:35)


In December 2012, an anonymous person contacts journalist, Glenn Greenwald to leak secret information about the NSA. Greenwald hesitates, and the anonymous person turns to filmmaker Laura Poitras.

Meeting Edward Snowden (03:36)

In June, Poitras and Greenwald travel to Hong Kong to meet their secret contact. Both journalists are surprised to see 29-year-old Edward Snowden.

The Program (01:53)

Greenwald and Poitras debrief Snowden for days. The documents he delivers reveal the history and details of one of the U.S. government's most closely guarded secrets, referred to as the program. (Credits)

9/11 Terrorist Attacks (02:33)

The program began on September 11, 2001 at NSA headquarters. Vice President Dick Cheney immediately seeks unlimited, legal authority for the president to respond to the terrorist attacks.

NSA: Overly Cautious and Restrictive (02:56)

On September 12, NSA officials question their system of preventing surprise attacks. During the Nixon administration, NSA overstepped its authority, and had its domestic surveillance program shut down. Some believe this restriction led to the inability to detect the 9/11 attacks.

Aggressive Data Collection (03:10)

Washington demands NSA stop the next attack. General Hayden briefs President Bush on the program, a system to look for unknown conspirators by investigating everybody.

President's Article II Authority (04:24)

On October 4, at a secret signing, President Bush officially authorizes the program. Addington hand-carries a copy of the paperwork to NSA headquarters.

Thomas Drake's ThinThread Plan (04:12)

Drake uncovers a program called ThinThread, a system that could capture massive amounts of phone and e-mail data, with privacy protections for American citizens. Drake presents this possible solution to his NSA superior, who informs him of the implementation of another secret program.

Stripping Away American Privacy (02:10)

Dozens of NSA employees are sworn to secrecy, but details are leaked to Drake. The program is essentially ThinThread without privacy protections for Americans.

Violation of the Constitution? (02:58)

At the end of October 2001, the members ThinThread team all retire. Drake stays and takes his concerns about the legalities of the program to the General Counsel's Office.

Plea to Congress (02:23)

In secret, the nation's largest telephone companies are now giving the NSA private call records of millions of Americans. In the fall of 2002, Bill Binney takes the matter to Congress. He finds an ally in Diane Roark.

House Intelligence Committee (03:10)

Roark immediately briefs the House Intelligence Committee on what she knows of the program, and calls for the re-institution of privacy protections. She receives no support.

Hayden's Secret (02:12)

Roark is summoned to meet with General Hayden to discuss the removal of security protections. In the end, Hayden cites the Commander-in-Chief's wartime authority.

FISA Court (03:40)

Thomas Tamm works with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA). Tamm learns the program is conducting electronic surveillance without warrants, and using that information to develop probable cause.

Jack Goldsmith's Debrief (04:15)

In the fall of 2003, Jack Goldsmith is appointed as head of the Office of Legal Counsel. Addington briefs Goldsmith on the program. Goldsmith explains the e-mail surveillance is a clear legal violation, and threatens to pull back his endorsement.

Hospital Confrontation (04:29)

The Justice Department prepares for conflict with the White House. Attorney General John Ashcroft agrees to not sign a continuation of the program, but falls ill. His successor, Jame Comey, notifies the White House formally that he will not sign a continuation.

Presidential Reauthorization (02:53)

At the White House, Cheney insists the President should act on his own. Cheney and Addington draft a new order that does not require the signature of the Attorney General. General Hayden agrees to continue with the program.

In Search of Justification (03:38)

With the impending resignations of the director of the FBI and acting attorney general, President Bush shuts down the warrantless e-mail data collection system. General Hayden is sent to convince a FISA court judge to restart it.

Constitutional Guarantees (02:37)

By the fall of 2004, electronic surveillance of American citizens resumes. On April 20, 2004, during his campaign trail, President Bush denies warrantless wiretaps ever occurred.

Contentious Meeting (04:45)

Department of Justice Attorney Tamm makes an anonymous call to the New York Times. CIA director John McLaughlin meets with editors to present the program and to request that the New York Times not publish this information.

Top Secret Status (03:24)

In the fall of 2004, the Bush administration invites top editors from "The Times" to a closed-door meeting. Editor Bill Keller decides not to report on the program.

Pressure on the Press (03:19)

The ThinThread group, including Roark, form a strong bond and discuss going to the press. James Risen of The New York Times decides to put the story out in a book and dedicates a chapter to the program.

The Program is Revealed (02:51)

In December of 2005, editors Keller and Phil Taubman are summoned to the White House. President Bush and General Hayden are unsuccessful in their attempts to persuade the editors, and "The Times" decides to publish the story.

General Hayden's Press Conference (03:23)

President Bush goes on the offensive and publicly addresses the program. General Hayden briefs the press, attempting to minimize the scale of the surveillance program.

The Story Breaks (03:26)

After four years of complaining, Drake reaches out to reporter Siobhan Gorman at the Baltimore Sun. Drake provides unclassified information about the secret surveillance program. Other stories begin to break.

Whistle-Blower Investigation (02:45)

Vice President Cheney is determined to stop the leakers and issues an FBI investigation. Tamm resigns and awaits federal indictment. Goldsmith is subpoenaed for a grand jury investigation.

Collateral Damage (04:04)

By the summer of 2007, the FBI conducts early morning raids on the houses of their primary suspects. After the raid, Loomis becomes a recluse and cuts out all social connections.

The New York Times Leak (02:49)

On November 28, 2007, the FBI raids Drake's home. In April 2008, Drake is summoned to meet with Federal Prosecutor Steven Tyrrell.

FISA Amendment Act of 2008 (03:01)

In 2008, presidential hopeful, Barack Obama embraces transparency and shows support for whistle-blowers. The White House is determined to make the program permanent and amend the FISA law.

Surveillance Bill (02:23)

Obama votes to support the FISA Amendment Act of 2008, increasing the power of the program.

Barack Obama's Decision (02:35)

In January 2009, President Obama is briefed on the full scale of the program's domestic surveillance. He decides the program will continue.

Golden Age of Electronic Surveillance (03:41)

The NSA is now spending $10 billion a year on capturing communications of people around the world. The NSA begins hiring people capable of working with large amounts of communication data. Edward Snowden is hired and begins working as an NSA contractor in Japan.

Enemy of the State (04:17)

President Obama's Justice Department begins to address the Bush-era leak investigations led by Attorney General Eric Holder. On April 14, 2010, Thomas Drake is charged with violating the Espionage Act.

Proof in Documents (03:08)

Ten years after September 11, 2001, there is little public outrage about the program as well as few congressional critics. At a secret bunker in Hawaii, Snowden is working on initiating his own move to expose the program.

Credits: United States of Secrets: The US Surveillance Program—Part 1 (02:25)

Credits: United States of Secrets: The US Surveillance Program—Part 1

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United States of Secrets: The US Surveillance Program—Part 1

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FRONTLINE goes behind the headlines to reveal the dramatic inside story of the U.S. government's massive and controversial secret surveillance program--and the lengths they went to trying to keep it hidden from the public. Part one goes inside Washington to piece together the secret political history of "the program," which began in the wake of Sept. 11 and continues today -- even after the revelations of its existence by Edward Snowden. Part two explores the secret relationship between Silicon Valley and the National Security Agency: How have the government and tech companies worked together to gather and warehouse your data? Distributed by PBS Distribution. 

Length: 116 minutes

Item#: BVL114704

Copyright date: ©2014

Closed Captioned

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