Call it Snowden 2: Electric Boogaloo.
Nine years after National Security Administration whistleblower Edward Snowden disclosed that the United States was keeping a massive trove of information on its own citizens obtained via a secret digital dragnet, two Democrat senators are alleging the CIA has assembled a similar clandestine stockpile of our data.
According to The Hill, the late-Friday release of the reports is suddenly grabbing attention, if just because concerns over privacy have become widespread of late — targeting everyday Americans, as well as presidential candidates.
The reports were sent on the same day special counsel John Durham alleged in a court filing that lawyers for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign paid techs to “infiltrate” servers in both Trump Tower and the White House to intercept data on Donald Trump during the election and its aftermath.
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They asked intelligence officials to detail a program which allegedly collected bulk data on American citizens in secret and operated “outside the statutory framework that Congress and the public believe govern this collection.”
“There have long been concerns about what information the intelligence community collects domestically, driven in part by previous violations of Americans’ civil liberties,” the AP’s Nomaan Merchant noted.
“The CIA and National Security Agency have a foreign mission and are generally barred from investigating Americans or U.S. businesses. But the spy agencies’ sprawling collection of foreign communications often snares Americans’ messages and data incidentally.”
The reports of the data-collection initiative were produced by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, a civil-liberties watchdog, which looked into two programs supposedly authorized under Executive Order 12333 — described by The Hill as a “Reagan-era presidential directive [that] established a framework for data collection by the intelligence community during foreign missions” — and included in what the CIA called “Deep Dive II.”
Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, said the report confirmed fears Executive Order 12333 is being used to collect data on Americans.
“With the revolution in communications technology, our communications, our data, floats all over the world, on its way to where it’s going and gets stored all over the world,” Goitein told The Hill.
“Under Executive Order 12333 in general the government is not allowed to target particular Americans or U.S. persons,” she continued. “But it hardly matters anymore because if the government can conduct bulk surveillance and bulk collection overseas it’s going to pick up American’s data in the process.”
“Most Americans probably think and assume that government surveillance affecting their own information and data is subject to oversight by Congress and the courts,” Goitein explained. “And they have reason to assume that because there are laws that would seem to indicate as much — but there are loopholes in those laws that the government could be exploiting and these reports confirm that that’s exactly what the government is doing.”
In 2013, Snowden revealed that warrantless bulk data had been collected by the government under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which dealt with investigations of domestic activities.
Wyden famously asked James Clapper, then the director of national intelligence, whether the NSA collected “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans” during a 2013 hearing, according to the AP.
“No,” Clapper said at first. He later added: “Not wittingly.” After Snowden’s revelations, Clapper apologized to the Senate Intelligence Committee, saying it was “clearly erroneous.”
In a heavily redacted letter, Wyden and Heinrich urged Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and CIA director William Burns to declassify the data collection so the public would be aware of it.
“Among the many details the public deserves to know are the nature of the CIA’s relationship with its sources and the legal framework for the collection; the kind of records collected … the amount of Americans’ records maintained; and the rules governing the use, storage, dissemination and queries (including U.S. person queries) of the records,” the senators wrote.
The senators noted that until the watchdog report was delivered to them in January, “the nature and full extent of the CIA’s collection was withheld from even the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.”
On Friday, the CIA claimed in a statement the data were “repositories of information about the activities of foreign governments and foreign nationals,” the AP reported.
“In the course of any lawful collection, CIA may incidentally acquire information about Americans who are in contact with foreign nationals,” a statement from the agency said.
“When the CIA acquires information about Americans, it safeguards that information in accordance with procedures approved by the Attorney General, which restrict the CIA’s ability to collect, retain, use and disseminate the information.”
What are the safeguards, you may ask? Good question. The PCLOB said that CIA analysts are — get this — warned by a pop-up box that if they use the program to collect information about American citizens, a foreign intelligence purpose is required.
“However, analysts are not required to memorialize the justification for their queries,” the board noted.
Yes, they have a pop-up, but no memorization of justification is required. In the same way, pornography sites often have a pop-up asking if you’re 18 — but there’s no consequences if one lies about their age.
Wyden and Heinrich think Congress and the American people need to know about what’s being collected.
“It is critical that Congress not legislate without awareness of a … CIA program, and that the American public not be misled into believe that the reforms in any reauthorization legislation fully cover the IC’s collection of their records,” they wrote in their letter.
Yes, both of these senators are among the most liberal Democrats in the upper chamber. Don’t pay so much attention to the messengers, however. These are credible allegations the CIA is abusing its power and collecting the information of innocent, unknowing American civilians. That’s something we all need to pay attention to.
The CIA may have a difficult, critical job. That doesn’t excuse amassing data on American citizens as if this were China. If this report is accurate, we need answers out of Langley. Snowden doesn’t need a sequel.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.