Released letter late Friday to avoid media scrutiny

Steve Watson
July 23, 2012

In a rare admission that has gone almost completely unreported, the Director of National Intelligence has admitted that the National Security Agency violated the US constitution and abused its power by spying on American citizens and monitoring their communications.

The admission was made in a letter to Senator Ron Wyden, released late on Friday, seemingly in an attempt to bury the story and avoid a media frenzy. Spencer Ackerman at Wired reports:

The head of the U.S. government’s vast spying apparatus has conceded that recent surveillance efforts on at least one occasion violated the Constitutional prohibitions on unlawful search and seizure.

The admission comes in a letter from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declassifying statements that a top U.S. Senator wished to make public in order to call attention to the government’s 2008 expansion of its key surveillance law.

The letter, embedded below, contains two key admissions, described by Wyden:

It is also true that on at least one occasion the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court held that some collection carried out pursuant to the Section 702 minimization procedures used by the government was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

I believe that the government’s implementation of Section 702 of FISA has sometimes circumvented the spirit of the law, and on at least one occasion the FISA Court has reached this same conclusion.

Ackerman notes that “Minimization” refers to how long the government may retain the surveillance data it collects.

Following the publication of the letter, Wyden released a statement saying “I applaud the DNI for agreeing that transparency should prevail in this situation… I believe that protections for Americans’ privacy need to be strengthened, and I believe that the FISA Court’s rulings help illustrate why this is necessary. I look forward to debating this issue on the Senate floor.”

Following the admission, the Electronic Privacy Information Center reports:

The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved a bill that would established new safeguards for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act. The Act provides for court approval of ‘programs of surveillance’ that allow for the collection of communications of US citizens. The bill, sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), would renew the Act but also establish new reporting requirements to improve government accountability.

The full letter from the DNI follows: 2012-07-20-OLA-Ltr-to-Senator-Wyden-ref-Declassification-Request

Last month The DNI refused to provide details on the NSA’s clandestine domestic spying program, suggesting that to do so would violate the privacy of Americans.

Senators Wyden and Senator Mark Udall of the intelligence oversight committee had repeatedly asked the NSA to divulge how many innocent Americans have had their communications monitored under the expanded Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, counterterrorism powers put into place four years ago.

The expansion of powers in 2008 eliminated the need for the NSA to have probable cause to intercept any American’s phone calls, text messages or emails. Wired acquired a letter (PDF) from the Inspector General of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which noted that “NSA leadership agreed that an IG review of the sort suggested would further violate the privacy of U.S. persons.”

The letter, written by I. Charles McCullough, also claimed that the NSA, which has as many employees as the FBI and the CIA combined, does not have the man power to collate and reveal such details, and that to attempt to do so would jeopardize the program.

“I defer to [the NSA inspector general’s] conclusion that obtaining such an estimate was beyond the capacity of his office and dedicating sufficient additional resources would likely impede the NSA’s mission,” McCullough wrote.

Last year, the NSA tacitly admitted that it has an active domestic spying program when the general counsel testified to a Senate hearing, overseen by Wyden and Udall, that he believes the agency has the authority to track Americans via cell phones.

“There are certain circumstances where that authority may exist,” said Matthew Olsen the Director of The National Counterterrorism Center.

Wyden and Udall have been pressing the NSA for some time to reveal whether or not the agency is collecting sensitive data on Americans such as cell site data, which would allow for tracking the location of anyone using a cell phone in the US. Along with Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah), Wyden introduced a joint bill last year that would force any government agency to secure a search warrant and show probable cause before tracking the location of any American.

Wyden has consistently expressed concern that the law relating to surveillance is unclear, and is being “secretly interpreted by the executive branch.”

As a candidate for president in 2008, Barack Obama promised to revisit and revise the rules of FISA to protect Americans’ rights, after he had voted for the bill as a Senator. However, as president, Obama has continued where president Bush left off in calling for extending the legislation and even actively preventing any judicial oversight of the wiretapping program.

The FISA provision, introduced in 2008, was merely a confirmation of activity that government spy agencies, including the NSA, have been engaging in for years.

The ACLU recently released an infographic (below) detailing how the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program has grown in gargantuan proportions and now intercepts 1.7 billion US electronic communications every single day. Those communications will soon all be funneled through the top secret $2 billion spy center in the Utah desert, which the NSA has refused to provide Congress with details of.

While the government says that the official targets of this expanding surveillance dragnet are “terrorists,” we now have an admission that snoops are using these powers to go after Americans exercising their constitutional rights. NSA Refuses To Admit To Spying On Americans nsa infographic —————————————————————- Steve Watson is the London based writer and editor for Alex Jones’, and He has a Masters Degree in International Relations from the School of Politics at The University of Nottingham in England.

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