The 'Dark Side' of Data: The NSA ThinThread Tale

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Thomas Drake, Founder and Senior Leader, Knowpari Systems, LLC – Recipient of the 2011 Ridenhour Truth-Telling Prize.

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Thomas Drake

Knowpari Systems, LLC

Thomas Drake is the founder and senior leader of Knowpari Systems, a boutique leadership development and executive consulting firm formed in 2008 and focused on business intelligence, IT-corporate governance, risk management, operations analysis, systems thinking, strategic advising and deep learning through people, process and technology – expanding capacity, increasing performance and enhancing social and relational well-being for individuals, teams, and organizations.

His recently concluded legal ordeal with the federal government – while on the receiving end of a Department of Justice prosecution and indictment over the past several years – lies at the nexus of national security, secrecy, overclassification, decision making, freedom of thought and innovation, civil liberties and the Constitution – and speaks volumes to the core question of just how much data is truly free (especially when it is digital), through data sharing (or hoarding), in what he calls the ‘dark side’ of data and decision making – the ‘elephant’ too often found in the boardroom and the executive suites. His case was highlighted in the 23 May 2011 issue of The New Yorker magazine by Jane Mayer and on a 60 Minutes special with Scott Pelley on 22 May 2011.

From 2001 through 2008 he was a senior executive at the National Security Agency (NSA) and served in various technical management and leadership capacities. While there he became a material witness and whistleblower for two 9/11 congressional investigations and a multi-year Department of Defense Inspector General audit of a failed multi-billion dollar flagship program called TRAILBLAZER as well as an operationally ready, highly innovative, revolutionary and breakthrough multi-million dollar intelligence data collection, processing and analysis system called THINTHREAD – that was specifically designed to handle the massive data volume and variety of the digital web with built-in 4th Amendment and privacy protection safeguards, but rejected by NSA.

His outreach and speaking expertise center on delivering dynamic, interactive and compelling content in the areas of strategic leadership, international relations, contemporary international problems, professional ethics, executive management, business intelligence and decision support systems, resource strategy, complex systems (social and technical), human relations, dynamics of the information and knowledge age, information management, organizational sustainability, executive leadership, 21st Century issues, governance and decision-making, the Constitution and civil liberties as well as whistleblowing.

His particular area of expertise is the strategic and global perspective while placing events, people, trends, and movements in the larger context and finding the meaning and the connections and making sense of them such that one can take the practical action necessary to execute the mission and the business in challenging times, under adverse conditions and with constant uncertainty.

He has also focused on a key ‘emergent’ strategically competitive best practice of relationship leadership involving dynamically evolving social ecology and social network systems. This highly innovative approach involves real-time learning and feedback creating the very conditions for both individual and organizational well-being and accomplishment while also achieving sustainable results in the marketplace.

To that end, and while working as an Expert in a Washington, DC area Apple Store providing technical support and compelling experiences in one-on-one customer environments with retail or business needs, he is pursuing a PhD in public management and leadership with a dissertation focused on the paradox of power and politics in the 21st Century and the role of transpersonal leadership creating and sustaining psychologically healthy workplaces through social networks of performance and cooperation rather than power and control.

In the past, he has led seminars, tutorials and workshops covering software engineering, software metrics, testing, project management, organizational dynamics and change management, as well as ‘high tech/high touch’ information technology methods and approaches. He has written for IEEE Computer magazine (software and program analysis) and has been published in CRC Press, Addison-Wesley, Software Tech News and numerous national and international conference proceedings.

In addition, Mr. Drake has conducted multiple presentations, interactive seminars, briefings, and tutorials on Software Quality Assurance, Testing, Best Current Practices in Software Development, Project Management: Achieving Success and Avoiding Failure, Risk Management, Team Management, People Management, Making a Difference: Transforming Information Technology – The People Side of the Equation, Inventing from the Future: The 21st Century Organization, The Customer is Your Quality, and many others. He was also a Certified Software Test Engineer for a number of years.
He was also a visiting professor of strategic leadership and information strategy at the National Defense University with the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. Previously, he was a principal in a couple of dot coms, served in the military (both Air Force and the Navy), and has 12 years of industry experience in change leadership, senior management, organizational leadership and development, quality assurance, software and systems engineering (having analyzed over 150 million lines of code), learning strategies, acquisition and program management, operations and technology life-cycle integration as a contractor and consultant with both government and commercial clients including Fortune 500 and Fortune 50 companies. He was at Booz | Allen | Hamilton as a management, strategy and technology consultant and software quality engineer from 1991-1998.

He enjoys gardening, reading, writing, talk abouts and talk it outs, operating his classic computers (including an 8-bit Atari home computer), playing chess (was rated competitively by the U.S. Chess Federation), experiential-based life learning, thinking ‘out of the box’, and living the ‘being’ part of human being.

Mr. Drake holds a bachelor’s and two Master’s degrees as well as numerous graduate certificates.

He is the recipient of the 2011 Ridenhour Truth-Telling Prize.

Comments on this page are now closed.


Jason Winder
10/18/2011 10:57am PDT

I found the presentation needlessly fear-invoking. There are certainly valid privacy concerns wrt federal government overreach, and I wouldn’t begin to argue against the fact that our civil liberties have suffered a good deal of post-9/11 rollback. However the presentation lacked content and specifics, and focused instead on just restating in various ways that Big Brother is watching. Very disappointing.

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Suzanne Axtell
10/16/2011 6:53am PDT

This sounds like it’s going to be a particularly interesting tale!

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