US senators say the CIA secretly collected Americans’ data

Image for article titled CIA has secret data-gathering program that includes files on Americans, senators say

Screenshot: Lucas Ropek/CIA website

The Central Intelligence Agency has a secret data collection program that includes information on Americans, according to two US senators with knowledge of the program. The nature of the collection, how it is conducted and the extent to which it occurred are not at all clear, although the senators have characterized the program as involving “mass collection” and say the CIA spent years hiding it from the public and Congress.

Members of Congress in question, the senses. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico), both learned about the program through their seats on the Senate Intelligence Committee. They previously urged top spy officials to declassify details of the secret program, originally cleared through Executive Order 12333a broad legal mandate for intelligence powers that was originally signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

The program was apparently revealed to the Senate Intelligence Committee last year in a classified report by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), a federal watchdog group designed to provide oversight of the American community. intelligence. That report, titled “Deep Dive II,” disclosed “a secretive mass collection program and issues with how the agency collects and processes information from Americans,” Wyden’s office said.

News of it all became public Thursday after the CIA declassified parts of a letter previously sent by Wyden and Heinrich to US intelligence chiefs about the program.

the letterwhich remains heavily redacted, calls on Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and CIA Director William J. Burns to publicly release details of the secret program, which the senators call “totally outside the statutory framework that Congress and the public believe they govern this collection, and without any judicial oversight, from Congress or even from the executive branch that has just [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] collection.” You can see an excerpt from the letter below.

Image for article titled CIA has secret data-gathering program that includes files on Americans, senators say

Screenshot: Lucas Ropek

It’s not entirely clear what all of this means, although it doesn’t sound particularly great. The Wall Street Journal comments that the CIA is “generally prohibited by law from engaging in domestic espionage” but that some spy programs “collect large streams of Internet or telephone data in a way that may gather information about Americans, for example when someone communicates with a surveillance target who lives abroad.

“[W]What these documents demonstrate is that many of the same concerns that Americans have about their privacy and civil liberties also apply to how the CIA collects and processes information under executive order and outside of FISA,” Wyden and Heinrich said. in a joint statement Thusday. “In particular, these documents reveal serious problems associated with warrantless sneak searches of Americans, the same problem that has raised bipartisan concerns in the context of FISA.”

FISA was originally created to provide legal limits on how US spy agencies collect information. It was passed by Congress in 1978 after a multitude of obscure spy scandals involving the US intelligence community. Critics have often pointed to the flawed nature of its regulatory powers.

When contacted for comment on Thursday, CIA Privacy and Civil Liberties Officer Kristi Scott told the New York Times the following: “The CIA recognizes and takes very seriously our obligation to respect the privacy and civil liberties of American persons in the conduct of our vital national security mission, and conducts our activities, including collection activities, pursuant to US law, Executive Order 12333 and our Attorney General guidelines,” she said. “The CIA is committed to transparency in accordance with our obligation to protect sources and methods of intelligence.”

The fallout from the demands of senators is still being felt. The American Civil Liberties Union was quick to comment Thursday night.

“Newly declassified documents reveal the CIA is secretly running massive surveillance programs that capture Americans’ private information,” the ACLU said. tweeted. “These reports raise serious questions about what information the CIA collects on a massive scale and how the agency uses that information to spy on Americans. This invasion of our privacy must stop.