CIA collects some data on Americans in bulk, senators warn

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WASHINGTON — The Central Intelligence Agency has been collecting for years in bulk, without a warrant, certain kinds of data that can affect the privacy of Americans, according to a recently declassified letter from two senators.

The CIA kept the nature of the data censored when it declassified the letter. At the same time, he said a report on the same subject, which prompted the letter, should remain fully classified except for some heavily redacted recommendations.

The report, titled “Deep Dive II,” was part of a series of studies conducted by an oversight committee examining the operations of the intelligence community under Executive Order 12333, rules for intelligence activities that Congress n not regulated by law. The watchdog, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Council, and its staff members have access to classified information.

In March 2021, the Senate Intelligence Committee received a copy of the report. In a letter the following month, two Democrats on the panel, Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, urged Avril D. Haines, the director of national intelligence, and William J. Burns, the director of the CIA, to declassify the activity and any internal rules regarding the interrogation of data to obtain information on Americans.

Complaining that the CIA had not previously informed the Intelligence Committee of the activity, the senators suggested that its hidden existence ran counter to Americans’ understanding that various pieces of legislation enacted in recent years “limit and , in some cases, prohibit the warrantless collection of Americans”. ‘ records.

However, an intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter, said the intelligence committee was already aware of the classified collection of the data by the agency itself. The Deep Dive II report, the official said, instead focused on storage and analysis tools for storing and querying this data after it was collected – systems the committee may not have previously been told about. .

After revelations in 2013 by former intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden that the National Security Agency was collecting mass logs of all US phone calls using a disputed interpretation of the USA Patriot Act – and had until recently did the same for email logs. — there was a period of tumult over the extent of government surveillance.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that the CIA had paid AT&T to analyze its vast treasure trove of call logs for associates of the agency’s overseas terrorism suspects. He also found that the agency had obtained bulk records of international money transfers handled by companies like Western Union — including transactions to and from the United States — using the same Patriot Act provision.

(On Thursday, the CIA also released a redacted version of a report describing its tracking of international financial data under Executive Order 12333 as part of the agency’s efforts to combat the Islamic State.)

In 2015, Congress banned mass collection of telecommunications metadata under the Patriot Act and limited other types of mass collection by the FBI under laws governing domestic activities like the Intelligence Surveillance Act. foreign or FISA.

Still, “the CIA secretly conducted its own mass program” under Executive Order 12333, the senators wrote.

“He did so entirely outside of the statutory framework that Congress and the public believe governs this collection, and without any judicial, congressional, or even executive branch oversight that accompanies the FISA collection,” the statement continued. letter. “This basic fact has been hidden from the public and from Congress.”

In a statement, Kristi Scott, the CIA’s privacy and civil liberties chief, defended the agency’s conduct.

“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, and conducts our activities, including collection activities, in accordance with law. US, Executive Order 12333 and our attorney. general guidelines,” she said. “The CIA is committed to transparency in accordance with our obligation to protect sources and methods of intelligence.”

But in their letter, Mr. Wyden and Mr. Heinrich urged the CIA to declassify the nature of its relationship with the sources – presumably companies providing the data – as well as the types of documents it was collecting and “the rules governing the Use, Storage, Dissemination and Requests (including US Person Requests) of the Recordings. »

In 2017, the government revealed Attorney General’s Directives for CIA Activities Under Executive Order which set out rules for some of these issues. But it is unclear whether the CIA has fully developed procedures to implement them; a set of recommendations of the Deep Dive II report said that at the time it had not developed any policies or procedures regarding how the guidelines apply to unspecified data.

The recommendations also said that when CIA officials use an American’s identifier as a query term when searching for unspecified data, a box will appear reminding them that the search must have a foreign intelligence objective. But officials are not required to register what that goal was, and the recommendations urged the agency to do so.

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