Senators seek more transparency on NSA spying

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO)
U.S. Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) continues to press for more transparency on government data collection and other secret intelligence programs.

Letter to intel chief seeks details on bulk data gathering

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The buik collection of data by the U.S. intelligence apparatus could enable the government to thwart laws designed to protect the privacy of medical and financial records. The recently revealed intelligence activity could have a significant impact on Americans’ privacy and civil liberties, according to a bipartisan group of 25 United States senators.

The lawmakers, including Colorado Democrat Mark Udall, last week sent a letter to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, asking him to publicly provide information about the duration and scope of the bulk phone-records collection program and provide examples of its effectiveness in providing unique intelligence, if such examples exist.

The senators said reliance on secret law to conduct domestic surveillance activities raises serious civil liberty concerns and all but prevents the public from engaging in an informed national security and civil liberty debate.

“We are concerned that by depending on secret interpretations of the PATRIOT Act that differed from an intuitive reading of the statute, this program essentially relied for years on a secret body of law,” the senators wrote, adding that misleading statements by intelligence officials “prevented our constituents from evaluating the decisions that their government was making, and will unfortunately undermine trust in government more broadly. The debate that the President has now welcomed is an important first step toward restoring that trust.”

The senators expressed their concern that the PATRIOT Act bulk collection program itself has a significant impact on the privacy of law-abiding Americans and that the same “business records” authority under the PATRIOT Act that has been interpreted to allow this bulk collection could be used for the bulk collection of records beyond phone metadata.

The senators are seeking public answers to the following questions in order to give the American people the information they need to conduct an informed public debate.

• How long has the NSA used PATRIOT Act “business records” authorities to engage in bulk collection of Americans’ phone records? Was this collection underway when the law was reauthorized in 2006?
• Has the NSA used PATRIOT Act authorities to conduct bulk collection of any other types of records pertaining to Americans, beyond phone records?
• Has the NSA collected or made any plans to collect Americans’ cell-site location data in bulk?
• Have there been any violations of the court orders permitting this bulk collection, or of the rules governing access to these records? If so, please describe these violations.
• Please identify any specific examples of instances in which intelligence gained by reviewing phone records obtained through the PATRIOT Act bulk collection program proved useful in thwarting a particular terrorist plot.
• Please provide specific examples of instances in which useful intelligence was gained by reviewing phone records that could not have been obtained without the bulk collection authority, if such examples exist.
• Please describe the employment status of all persons with conceivable access to this data, including IT professionals, and detail whether they are federal employees, civilian or military, or contractors.

The Senators signing the letter are: Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Jon Tester (D-Mt.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Dean Heller (R- Nev.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah).

Udall critical of leaks

Separately, Udall last week also expressed concern about news reports that included unnamed sources discussing the CIA’s possible responses to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s study on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation program. Udall has been advocating for a public release of the report after review by the administration.

According to Udall, the CIA has declined to speak with committee members or staff about the study or the CIA’s response to it, but starting in March, unnamed intelligence officials and former CIA employees have been discussing the report in the media, including a March 7 report in the Wall Street Journal citing sources as saying that the CIA was preparing to object to the entire report and characterizing it as “political” and biased.

“As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I am concerned to see news reports about the CIA’s response to the Committee’s Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program before the information was provided to the committee,” Udall said. “Committee members have not yet seen this response, which we have been expecting for nearly six months.

“The American people’s trust in intelligence agencies requires transparency and strong congressional oversight. This latest leak — the latest incident in a long string of leaks from unnamed intelligence officials who purport to be familiar with the Committee’s Study and the CIA’s official response to it — is wholly unacceptable.  Even as these reports emerged today and over the past several months, the CIA and the White House have repeatedly rejected requests to discuss the Committee’s report with Members or Committee staff,” Udall said.

“The continual leaks of inaccurate information from unnamed intelligence officials are embarrassing to the agency and have only hardened my resolve to declassify the full Committee Study, which is based on a review of more than six million pages of CIA records, comprises more than 6,000 pages in length and includes more than 35,000 footnotes.  The report is based on CIA records including internal memoranda, cables, emails, as well as transcripts of interviews and Intelligence Committee hearings.  The Study is fact-based, and I believe, indisputable.

“I am confident the American people will agree once they have the opportunity to read the Study, as well as the CIA’s official response, that this program was a failure and a tragic moment in America’s history.  The only way to correct the inaccurate information in the public record on this program is through the sunlight of declassification.”

As recently as June 26, the Washington Post cited “current and former U.S. intelligence officials” as being “sharply critical of the course of the committee’s investigation as well as its conclusions.”


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