The CIA has a secret program that collects US data

WASHINGTON (AP) — The CIA has a secret, undisclosed data repository that includes information collected on Americans, two Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee said. Although neither the agency nor lawmakers are releasing details about the data, the senators alleged that the CIA had long withheld details about the program from the public and Congress.

Sense. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico sent a letter to senior intelligence officials requesting more details about the program to be declassified. Large parts of the letter, which was sent in April 2021 and declassified on Thursday, and documents released by the CIA have been redacted. Wyden and Heinrich said the program operated “outside the statutory framework that Congress and the public believe governs this collection.”

There have long been concerns about information the intelligence community gathers domestically, in part due to past violations of Americans’ civil liberties. The CIA and the National Security Agency have a mission overseas and are generally not authorized to investigate Americans or American companies. But the spy agencies’ sprawling collection of foreign communications often traps messages and data from Americans.

Intelligence agencies are required to take steps to protect American information, including removing the names of all Americans from reports unless they are deemed relevant to an investigation. The process of removing deletions is known as “unmasking”.

FILE – Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., leaves the Senate Subway at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022.(AP Photo/Amanda Andrade-Rhoades)

“The CIA recognizes and takes very seriously our obligation to respect the privacy and civil liberties of American people in the conduct of our vital national security mission,” said Kristi Scott, Chief Privacy and Civil Liberties Officer for the CIA. agency, in a press release. “The CIA is committed to transparency in accordance with our obligation to protect sources and methods of intelligence.”

The CIA released a series of redacted recommendations on the program issued by an oversight committee known as the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Council. According to the document, a pop-up warns CIA analysts using the program that seeking information on US citizens or other individuals covered by privacy laws requires a foreign intelligence objective.

“However, analysts are not required to memorize the rationale for their queries,” the board said.

Both senators have long called for more transparency from intelligence agencies. Nearly a decade ago, a question Wyden posed to the nation’s spy chief foreshadowed critical revelations about the NSA’s mass surveillance programs.

In 2013, Wyden asked then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper if the NSA collected “any kind of data on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.” Clapper initially replied “No”. He later said, “Not consciously.”

Later that year, former system administrator Edward Snowden exposed the NSA’s access to bulk data via US internet companies and hundreds of millions of call records from telecommunications providers. These revelations sparked global controversy and new legislation in Congress.

Clapper would be later apologize in a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee, calling his response to Wyden “clearly in error.”

According to Wyden and Heinrich’s letter, the CIA’s mass collection program operates outside of laws passed and reformed by Congress, but under the authority of Executive Order 12333, the document that largely governs the activity of the intelligence community. intelligence and was first signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

“It is essential that Congress not legislate without knowledge of a CIA program, and that the American public not be misled into believing that the reforms of any reauthorization legislation fully cover the collection of their records by the IC,” the senators wrote in their letter. There was a redaction in the letter before “CIA Program”.

Additional documents released by the CIA on Thursday also revealed limited details of a financial data collection program against the Islamic State. This program also accidentally trapped some records held by Americans.

Intelligence agencies are subject to guidelines on handling and destroying Americans’ data. These guidelines and laws governing intelligence activities have evolved over time in response to previous revelations about domestic espionage.

The FBI spied the American civil rights movement and secretly recorded the conversations of Dr. Martin Luther King. The CIA, in what was called Operation Chaosinvestigated whether the Vietnam War opposition movement had ties to foreign countries.

“These reports raise serious questions about what kind of information the CIA collects en masse and how the agency uses that information to spy on Americans,” said American Civil Liberties Union attorney Patrick Toomey. in a press release. “The CIA conducts these sweeping surveillance activities without any court approval and with little or no safeguards imposed by Congress.”

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