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US partially declassifies top-secret NSA surveillance programs

Published time: July 31, 2013 15:32
Reuters / Jim Urquhart

Reuters / Jim Urquhart

On the same morning that the United States Senate grilled the nation’s top investigators about domestic surveillance, the Director of National Intelligence declassified three documents detailing those programs “in the interest of increased transparency.”

Wednesday morning, the director of public affairs for the DNI’s office posted three files on the agency’s website pertaining to the phone records mass tracking program exposed in June by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Nearly three months after Mr. Snowden began releasing classified intelligence documents, DNI Director James Clapper has approved the release of three files further explaining how Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act has allowed investigators to collect the phone records of millions of Americans on a daily basis.

Among those files published Wednesday morning on the DNI website are  two reports on the NSA’s bulk phone data collection program — one from 2009 and another from 2011 — and the primary order for business records collection under Section 215 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

The FISC document, formerly classified as “top secret,” explains amid a series of redactions that the court can compel the custodian of records at private businesses to produce for the NSA on a daily basis “all call detail records or ‘telephony metadata’” for all communications.

According to that document’s cover page, the court did not intend on declassifying the document until April 12, 2038.

DNI Clapper has determined that the release of these documents is in the public interest,” DNI Director of Public Affairs Shawn Turner said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee asked members of the NSA, DNI and Federal Bureau of Investigation to answer questions during a public hearing in Washington, DC held Wednesday morning on Capitol Hill.

Each and every program and tool is valuable,” FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce told members of the Senate, insisting that intelligence gaps preceding the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks have since been narrowed following the adoption of the PATRIOT Act’s Section 215 and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act’s Section 702.

We need to remember what happened [on] 9/11, and everyone in this room remembers where they were and what happened,” Joyce told the committee.

Mr. Joyce,” interrupted Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), “you are stating the obvious.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence since 2009, told her colleagues at the hearing that “we would place this nation in jeopardy if we eliminated these two programs.”

According to the contents of the 2011 Department of Justice report declassified by the DNI on Wednesday, “Both of these programs operate on a very large scale.”

As noted,” the report continues, “these two collection programs significantly strengthen the intelligence community’s early warning system for the detection of terrorists and discovery of plots against the homeland. They allow the intelligence community to detect phone numbers and email addresses within the United States that may be contacting targeted phone numbers and email addresses associated with suspected foreign terrorists abroad and vice-versa; and entirely domestic collections between entities within the United States tied to a suspected foreign terrorist attack.”

“NSA needs access to telephony and email transactional information in bulk so that it can quickly identify and assess the network of contacts that a targeted number or address is connected to, whenever there is [reasonable articulable suspicion] that the targeted number or address is associated with…”

That paragraph — and many others throughout the disclosures — ends with two lines of redactions obscuring the Justice Department’s actual justification for surveilling Americans. Who exactly is of particular interest to the US intelligence community is of course an issue that the government has gone out of its way to obscure. As RT reported recently, the Obama administration says that while the US remains at war, the identify of those on the receiving end is an issue far too sensitive to be shared with the public.


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