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US Senators Claim CIA Has Been Collecting Data From Americans Without Their Knowledge

Two US senators have made public evidence of what they claim is a previously secret CIA bulk data collecting operation that was carried out outside the law and without oversight.

Courtesy: reddit

Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, both Democrats, announced on Thursday that they will send a co-signed letter [PDF] to Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and CIA Director William Burns in April 2021, requesting expedited declassification of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board’s (PCLOB) review of two CIA counterterrorism programs known as “Deep Dive I” and “Deep Dive II.”

Executive Order 12333, issued during the Reagan administration, allows for comprehensive data gathering and sharing with the CIA in the interest of national security. Senators demanded a review of the documents’ status because they believed the CIA had launched a mass data collecting campaign on US individuals that was likely illegal. They said that declassifying the records was vital because the public has a right to know what the CIA is up to and Congress has to be able to oversee the agency.

On February 10, some of the papers they requested declassified were made public, including a heavily redacted PCLOB report [PDF] on the CIA’s gathering of financial data during counter-terrorism operations against the Islamic State. According to the document, “accidental capture” of data describing US persons was part of that endeavour (USPs).

That’s an admission that USPs’ data was obtained, despite the fact that Executive Order 12333’s specific goal was not to collect USPs’ data, and despite the United States’ strong commitment to personal liberty and government staying out of people’ affairs.

When officers see material describing a US citizen, a pop-up reminds them that they are bound not to look at it unless it can be justified on the grounds that it reflects foreign intelligence, according to a series of recommendations from PCLOB to the CIA. However, the memo states that CIA personnel are not required to keep track of their justifications for accessing such information. The document implies that CIA personnel may not always have a valid justification.

“As a result,” the memo reads, “auditing or assessing US Person (USP) enquiries is likely to be difficult and time-consuming.” “Given the volume and type of data in [REDACTED], it is reasonable to ask analysts to produce documented justifications for USP searches.”

When officers see material describing a US citizen, a pop-up reminds them that they are bound not to look at it unless it can be justified on the grounds that it reflects foreign intelligence, according to a series of recommendations from PCLOB to the CIA.

However, the memo states that CIA personnel are not required to keep track of their justifications for accessing such information. The document implies that CIA personnel may not always have a valid justification.

“As a result,” the memo reads, “auditing or assessing US Person (USP) enquiries is likely to be difficult and time-consuming.” “Given the volume and type of data in [REDACTED], it is reasonable to ask analysts to produce documented justifications for USP searches.”

The senators contend that the CIA’s failure to justify officers’ access to data regarding USPs in every instance is serious ā€“ in part because the Agency’s data collection procedures are not subject to public scrutiny because EO12333 is not subject to accountability.

The senators’ statement adds, “The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) receives all the attention because of periodic congressional reauthorizations and the publication of Department of Justice, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and FISA Court (FISC) papers.”

The FBI has been accused of failing to follow FISA rules for years, according to The Register, while the FISC has managed to keep its rationale for granting access to US persons’ data hidden.

Senators revealed their information late on Thursday, so further reactions are hard to come by at this moment. For example, the Republican leadership does not appear to have responded. A CIA statement quoted elsewhere makes the bland observation that the agency is committed to civil liberties protection. Senators Wyden and Heinrich asked for “greater transparency from the CIA, including what types of records were gathered and the legal underpinning for the collection,” as well as improvements in the way the agency manages data.

 

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