Senators: CIA Secretly Spies on Americans
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Two Democratic senators say that the Central Intelligence Agency collects information on Americans in bulk in a secret program without supervision from Congress or any other branch of the government.
The allegations from Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) came in a letter to Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and CIA Director William Burns dated April 13, 2021, that was partly declassified this week.
Wyden and Heinrich, both members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called on the CIA to declassify more information on the program.
The CIA declassified the letter and a portion of recommendations from a report compiled by a watchdog, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB). Significant amounts of both the letter and the recommendations were redacted. The rest of the report remains fully classified.
“The CIA has secretly conducted its own bulk program,” the lawmakers wrote, with the rest of the line being redacted.
Wyden and Heinrich alleged that the program has operated outside of laws passed and reformed by Congress but under the authority of Executive Order 12333, a document signed by former President Reagan in 1981 that governs intelligence community activity.
“It has done so entirely outside the statutory framework that Congress and the public believe govern this collection, and without any of the judicial, congressional or even executive branch oversight that comes with FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] collection,” they wrote.
“This basic fact has been kept from the public and from Congress. Until the PCLOB report was delivered last month, the nature and full extent of the CIA’s collection was withheld even from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.”
The lawmakers concluded their letter by urging the CIA to reveal its “relationship with its sources and the legal framework for the collection; the kind of records collected [redacted] the amount of Americans’ records maintained; and the rules governing the use, storage, dissemination and queries (including U.S. person queries) of the records.”
“Each of these matters has been the subject of extensive declassifications with regard to NSA’s [National Security Agency] and FBI’s FISA collection; there is no reason why CIA’s activities cannot be equally transparent.”
The CIA said it takes its duty to protect U.S. residents’ privacy and personal liberties “very seriously.”
“CIA recognizes and takes very seriously our obligation to respect the privacy and civil liberties of U.S. persons in the conduct of our vital national security mission,” said Kristi Scott, the agency’s privacy and civil liberties officer.
“CIA is committed to transparency consistent with our obligation to protect intelligence sources and methods.”
According to the unredacted portions of the PCLOB’s recommendations, a pop-up box warns CIA analysts using the program that searching for information U.S. citizens or others covered by privacy laws requires a foreign intelligence purpose. However, the program does not require analysts to justify their search.
“These reports raise serious questions about the kinds of information the CIA is vacuuming up in bulk and how the agency exploits that information to spy on Americans,” said Patrick Toomey, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union.