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September 5th, 2012 AARON MESH | News Stories
 

Who’s Listening to Diane Roark?

An Oregon woman warned that the U.S. government was eavesdropping on its own citizens. Then it turned on her.

news1_dianeroark_3844SPOOKED: Diane Roark says she no longer feels secure in her home. “Every time at night when I go around and lock the doors, I think, ‘Well, if they want to get in…’” - IMAGE: Tom Patterson
Warrantless wiretapping may have faded from the headlines with George W. Bush, but one Oregonian is determined to focus attention on the federal government’s spying on its own citizens.

Diane Roark, 63, is an unlikely activist. More comfortable with Dick Cheney than Noam Chomsky, the Stayton mother of two spent over 20 years inside Washington, D.C.’s, intelligence bureaucracy—not exactly an anarchist breeding ground. 

But since the summer day five years ago when a dozen FBI agents banged on her front door, Roark has been a different person.

On July 26, 2007, she had planned to spend the day arranging an outdoor wedding reception for her son on her 3 acres in Stayton, a town 12 miles southeast of Salem. 

But at 6 am the FBI came knocking. According to a 2011 investigation by The New Yorker, the agents sought classified materials from the National Security Agency—any top-secret documents that might prove Roark had told newspaper reporters that the federal government was spying on its own citizens without legal permission.

The agents took at least 10 boxes of papers, a Dell desktop computer, and a combination printer and fax machine. 

“They wanted me to sit on the couch in my bathrobe,” Roark says. “I said, ‘I’ve got work to do.’” She changed her clothes, went outside and started weeding—under armed FBI guard.

For most of her career, Roark was more likely to be helping federal agents than serve as their target. She worked as a Republican staffer on the House of Representatives’ Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. She pushed to fund NSA programs to monitor phone calls, emails and Internet use by possible terrorists abroad.

Roark grew up in Sublimity and remains a moderate conservative—a Glenn Beck book sits atop a cabinet in her home office. 

But for the past five years, the U.S. government has held her property without filing charges—because she admits to giving The Baltimore Sun unclassified information about two surveillance programs that were never implemented. NSA officials also suspected her of blowing the whistle on a third wiretapping program used on American citizens. She denies doing so. 

In July, Roark filed suit against the federal government in U.S. District Court in Eugene. She wants her computer back—and she hopes to prove the NSA overstepped its bounds. 

“They want to keep making my life as miserable as they can,” she says. “I think it’s a form of punishment. They wanted to get me. They wanted to get me really badly.” 

Warrantless wiretapping may sound like ancient history. But a March 15 Wired magazine report shows electronic surveillance has increased under President Barack Obama, with a huge NSA data center under construction in Utah to store the fruit of government spying. 

And the federal investigation of Roark—along with concurrent raids on four other government employees who warned about NSA programs—has been continued by the Obama administration.

“The broad-scale surveillance that the government has been doing involves the private affairs of millions of Americans who have done nothing wrong,” says Dave Fidanque, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon. “The only way we know what we do is because a handful of government employees risked everything to let the American people know. And the government’s response has not been to stop this surveillance, but to do everything it can to identify these leakers and send them to prison.”


Roark’s relations with the NSA were combative well before the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“They were wasting an awful lot of money, so I got really tough,” she says. “They hated me.” 

Roark criticized an NSA electronic surveillance program called Trailblazer, which The New Yorker says cost at least $1.2 billion and didn’t work. Instead, she pushed for a rival program called ThinThread, which Roark says kept the personal information of Americans encrypted.

But in February 2002, Roark says, she learned the NSA had instead employed a spy program that discarded protections for U.S. citizens. Wired later revealed it was code-named Stellar Wind.

“I thought it was a rogue operation,” Roark says. “I just could not conceive that, even in the wake of 9/11, they would do this.”

She says she went to her congressional leaders and the NSA’s director, Gen. Michael Hayden, and asked why the protections against warrantless domestic wiretapping had been abandoned. 

“We had the power,” Roark recalls Hayden saying. “We didn’t need them.”

But Roark says she didn’t take her frustrations to the press. She retired and moved back to Oregon in 2003, feeling “responsible” for advocating technology used to listen in on Americans.

In 2005, The New York Times revealed the existence of Stellar Wind, and warrantless wiretapping became a political disaster for the Bush administration. Roark says she never spoke to anyone at the Times; she had, however, given unclassified information to a Baltimore Sun reporter who wrote about Trailblazer and ThinThread in 2006.

When the FBI first contacted her, Roark assumed she’d be a cooperative witness for an investigation of illegal wiretapping. “I had no idea I would become the main target for it,” she says. 

But when FBI agents grilled her in Washington, D.C., Roark realized she was a central suspect in leaks to The Times. Then came the raid on her house.

Based on the list of items in the FBI search warrant, Roark suspects agents had been inside her house before that morning.

“It makes you feel very insecure in your house,” Roark says. “It’s not your refuge.”

The FBI declined to comment. Hayden could not be reached. NSA officials referred WW to remarks made in July by the agency’s current director, Gen. Keith Alexander, who denied monitoring U.S. citizens. “Congress knows we’re not doing that,” he said. “All branches of our government see that we’re not doing it.”


Although she did not vote for him, Roark says she hoped Obama’s election would end her ordeal.

Instead, the new administration has prosecuted leaks at an unprecedented rate—more Espionage Act cases than all previous administrations combined, according to The New Yorker.

“It has been very depressing,” Roark says. “What occurs to me is, if they do this to us—who are educated, who have at least some means to protect ourselves, who have connections—what are they doing to the guy in the street?”

The ACLU’s Fidanque says local political activists should be troubled—but so should average citizens.

“I imagine most activists figure they’re subject to surveillance and act accordingly,” Fidanque says. “It’s the rest of us that ought to be outraged.”

Roark says she’s already spent $30,000 in legal fees, and is looking for a pro bono attorney. She’s also fighting breast cancer, now in remission. “The literature tells you to avoid stress,” Roark says. “I’m like, ‘Yeah, right.’”

She wants her possessions returned and to contest the feds’ argument they can seize property if it contains any classified information—or even information that hasn’t been officially released. If she can’t stop the government from spying on its citizens, she wants to make it harder for them to keep it a secret.

“Anything they want to cover up—and they have a lot they could cover up, including just plain incompetence—they can say they’ll seize all your stuff,” Roark says. “I just don’t understand why nobody cares about the Constitution.”

Roark leans back in a deck chair and looks over the fir groves that surround her house. Intruders are again invading: Some burrowing animal—probably a mole—is digging next to her driveway.

She’s determined to fight on. 

“I guess I figured out what I can do with my retirement now,” Roark says. 


FACT: The NSA is the Department of Defense’s electronic spying operation. Its budget is classified, but estimated by Wired in the tens of billions.

 
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