- Hawaii Health Department head killed in plane crash
- Colorado school drops sexual harassment label on boy who kissed girl’s hand
- Australia court strikes down 5-day-old, gay-marriage law
- Fake interpreter at Mandela service: ‘Sorry,’ I have schizophrenia
- George Zimmerman will not be charged in domestic dispute
- Russian officials press bilateral U.S. trade deal
- Creator of ‘Selfies at Funerals’ blog retires after Obama flub: ‘Our work here is done’
- New Obama adviser Podesta is against Keystone but will steer clear of pipeline deliberations
- 40 Australian adults, children found in ‘one of the worst accounts of incest ever made public’
- Venezuela’s Maduro calls on student ‘price vigilantes’ to hit the streets, report businesses
NSA violated court rules on collecting phone call data
Question of the Day
For three years, the National Security Agency routinely violated rules set down by federal judges governing how the agency was allowed to use mass-collected data about every telephone call made in the United States, according to more than 1,800 pages of declassified documents the Obama administration released Tuesday.
“From a technical standpoint, there was no single person who fully understood exactly how the program functioned,” said a senior intelligence official, one of two who agreed to discuss the documents with reporters only on condition of anonymity, despite speaking on a telephone conference call organized by his agency’s public affairs office.
“As a result, we did not describe it accurately” in court submissions beginning in May 2006 and the failure to comply with the court’s rules did not become apparent until January 2009, he said.
“This was a real compliance issue that NSA uncovered” through its internal vigilance, another official said.
But the admission drew withering criticism from privacy and civil liberties advocates.
“How can Congress, the American people, or even the president try to oversee an agency when the agency itself doesn’t even know the details of its programs?” asked Mark M. Jaycox, a policy analyst with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
He called the NSA “a rogue agency.”
The documents released Tuesday relate to interpretations of section 215 of the Patriot Act argued by the government and approved by the FISA court, the secret tribunal created by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Section 215, the so-called “business records” provision, allows the government to issue secret orders, compelling companies to turn over their records and forbidding them from revealing the seizure.
Top secret documents leaked in June by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden showed that the agency had used a secret, and very broad, interpretation of Section 215 to force U.S. telephone companies to hand over data about every phone call made in the United States.
The agency had thereby amassed a vast archival database of the caller, destination, time and duration — the so-called “metadata” — of every phone call made in America over the past five years.
Officials said in June that the database contained no information about the content of calls and that it was only used to look for people in America who had been in direct or indirect contact with suspected terrorists abroad. The FISA court ruled that the agency had to prove a “reasonable articulable suspicion” that a phone number was a legitimate target for counter-terrorism intelligence gathering before it could check the number against the database and see which Americans had been in touch with terrorists.
But beginning in 2006, NSA officials also checked the daily batches of data coming in from the phone companies against a so-called “alert list” — a batch of phone numbers that the agency regarded “of counter-terrorism interest” but many of which had not been cleared by the court. The list included the phone numbers of thousands of Americans.
During the three years the alert list was used, it grew from fewer than 4,000 to nearly 18,000, according to the officials on the conference call. Only about 2,000 of those had court approval.
“There are all kinds of things that [U.S. intelligence agencies do] that don’t meet any particular evidentiary standard,” one official said.
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Shaun Waterman is an award-winning reporter for The Washington Times, covering foreign affairs, defense and cybersecurity. He was a senior editor and correspondent for United Press International for nearly a decade, and has covered the Department of Homeland Security since 2003. His reporting on the Sept. 11 Commission and the tortuous process by which some of its recommendations finally became ...
- Negotiators skirt customs, make flights easier from UAE to U.S.
- Dems back bill to fix problems in investor visa program
- Democrats proceed with Mayorkas vote despite pending investigation
- Game players don't think peace has a chance in Syria
- NSA monitored 'World of Warcraft' players
Latest Blog Entries
By Matt Kibbe
The short-term deal will assure long-term overspending
- Rand Paul: Budget deal 'shameful,' 'huge mistake'
- All-out war breaks out in GOP over budget pact
- Teen thugs in D.C. run wild -- even while wearing GPS ankle bracelets
- Obama takes 'selfie' at Mandela's funeral service
- Chinese man fed up with his girlfriend's shopping jumps to his death
- Biden guarantees victory on immigration reform
- Inside the Ring: China targets Global Hawk drone
- Obama's antics at Nelson Mandela tribute: Jovial conversation, handshake with Raul Castro
- KIBBE: Another Republican budget surrender
- American bourbon now better than Scottish whisky: U.K.-born expert
Independent voices from the The Washington Times Communities
Extraordinary day at Redskins Park
White House pets gone wild!
Let it snow