A Good American (2017)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on February 5, 2017 @ tonymacklin.net.

We know about "the war on Christmas" and "the war on women," and other "wars."

But the greatest, most insidious psychological war is the war on truth. It's never-ending. It encroaches and overwhelms.

A Good American is a documentary against the war on truth. One has to decide how valid and credible that is, but it's certainly a concept worth serious consideration.

A Good American, directed by Austrian Friedrich Moser, focuses on a small group within the American National Security Agency. The film centers on former controversial technical director of the NSA, Bill Binney. He is on the front lines of the struggle against the powers at the NSA.

Backing up Binney are former NSA officials Tom Drake, Diane Roark, Ed Loomis. Together they created and promoted ThinThread, a surveillance program, but the agency demeaned it and eventually abolished it. They insist if it hadn't been shut down a few weeks before 9/11, it would have prevented the attack on the World Trade Center.

They make a convincing case. And the subsequent actions by the government which raided their homes and took incriminating computers away seems to support them. At least, it raises crucial questions. Most people - right or left - believe that power often creates abuse.

For much of its length, A Good American is informative but not compelling. Metadata - "data about data" - is hardly absorbing to most viewers. Moser tries to add interest. There is a lot of artsy cinematography - flapping flags, a wash of lights on the windshield of a car, specks of light in space, upside-down reflections in water of the figures of soldiers.

At times A Good American seems almost a travelogue. There are several scenes in nature - a waterfall, swirling water, blue sky, an expansive beach, foliage, leafy trees, but it's superfluous.

The film begins to get some traction when it takes us back to Bill Binney in Vietnam, and the information he collected but wasn't able to use. There's a scene of General Westmoreland making false overstatements. He could be the poster figure for non-truth. It's unsettling.

In the last section - about 9/11 and intelligence - A Good American explodes with disturbing insight. It becomes real and immediate. One may argue about the issues, but probably a thinking person - that certainly limits the audience - should see the film.

Tom Drake says, "We had the information in the database. NSA's response: completely shut the program down." Diane Roark insists, "9/11 would have been avoided." Binney says, ThinThread "was a program that absolutely would have prevented 9/11."

General Michael Hayden chose to replace ThinThread with Trailblazer, which he outsourced to private contractors.

Drake says that after 9/11, Maureen Baginski, who was the Signals Intelligence Director at NSA when the attack occurred, said, "9/11 is a gift to NSA. We're going to get all the money we need, and then some."

Kirk Wiebe says, "In 2005 Trailblazer was declared an abject failure, having wasted billions of dollars. A lot of millionaires were made during that time. But not much intelligence got done." He concludes, "It was the largest failure in NSA history."

Don't worry. We're in better times, aren't we? The place of A Good American has been usurped by a "Great" American.

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