Bill Binney, a former high-level intelligence officer in the NSA and later prominent whistleblower, has explained the inner workings of the security agency and its surveillance in a Reddit 'Ask Me Anything' session.
Binney joined the NSA in 1970, moving up the ranks to become the agency's Technical Director for intelligence in 2001.
He did well at the agency due to his aptitude for maths, code-breaking and analysis, but resigned in October 2001, and began speaking out against mass surveillance techniques and exposing the scale of the NSA's eavesdropping on American citizens.
Binney took to Reddit in a question and answer session, replying to submitted questions about life in the agency and the reality of NSA spying.
On Tor, the Deep Web, and 'untraceable' browsing
The encrypted Tor internet browser has been held up as a way for internet users to escape surveillance, and it works to an extent.
Binney said he believes the NSA "still has problems following" the exchange of data on Tor, but that doesn't mean it's impossible.
He also mentions the NSA's 'Treasuremap' programme, which was exposed by Edward Snowden.
The goal of Treasuremap is to map the entire internet, giving the NSA and GCHQ a nearly real-time look at the web and every device and router that makes it up.
Binney says the NSA is using Treasuremap's network of embedded programs in servers to try and attack Tor, but they clearly haven't succeeded so far.
On the oversight of the NSA's budget and spending
Binney says there is "no oversight of NSA spending," adding "they are not audited at all" - but this isn't strictly true.
Edward Snowden himself has released the details of NSA audits, and the NSA is open about the various governmental oversight boards they are monitored by.
However, he could mean that there are no external audits, from independent auditors who could be able to provide a better insight into the agency's finances.
However, even though the audits do happen, Binney's own claims and leaked agency documents show that rules on privacy and surveillance are routinely broken by the NSA.
How do NSA employees deal with their jobs?
The NSA employs highly intelligent and experienced people to build these surveillance programs - so how do they feel about the level of spying on civilians?
Surprisingly, Bonney said: "Most of them did not like the program and opposed it," referring to 'Stellar Wind', the codename given to given to civilian communications data harvested through the President's Surveillance Program, which came in to force shortly after 9/11.
Despite their opposition, Binney said many NSA workers went along with it, claiming the typical agency employee tends to avoid conflict and not object to official instructions.
What can people do to protect themselves and stay anonymous?
Binney says to "use smoke signals".
The American security agencies, which include the NSA and CIA amongst others, have a budget of around $52 billion.
With endless funds at their disposal, Binney says "they have more resources to acquire your data than you could ever hope to defend against."
He adds: "This has to be addressed in law and legislation. Call your local governmental representative and complain, otherwise, if you sit and do nothing, you're f*****!"
Which other whistleblowers does Binney respect?
These names include Jesselyn Radack, who revealed that John Walker Lindh, an American Taliban fighter detained by soldiers in 2001, was interrogated by the FBI without an attorney.
He also mentions John Kirakou, the first US official to reveal that waterboarding had been used to torture Al Qaeda prisoners, and Jeffrey Stirling, who blew the whistle on a secret US plan to provide Iran with an incorrect nuclear weapon design.
Surprisingly, Edward Snowden isn't included on Binney's list.
Binney has previously expressed distaste for Snowden's leaks, and although he said in a USA Today interview he is certain that Snowden did a "really great public service" by revealing civilian surveillance, he is "transitioning from whistleblower to traitor" by revealing more information detailing American intelligence's work in foreign countries.
However, speaking about Snowden and Manning elsewhere in the AMA, he said he thinks they have both "tried their best to defend the constitution and inform the public of things they need to know."
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies