- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 8, 2013

The National Security Agency is not only archiving “metadata” about every telephone call in America but also searching the content of millions of Americans’ email and text communications for information about foreigners under surveillance, the New York Times reported Thursday.

The NSA systems revealed by leaker Edward Snowden are used to monitor the communications of Americans who are in contact with targeted foreigners abroad, as Obama administration officials have acknowledged in response to the leaks.

The systems also scan the bulk-collected contents of Americans’ email and other online communications, searching for information linked to those targets, such as a little-used email address, The Times reported, citing a senior intelligence official.

News of the warrantless computer surveillance suggests that administration officials have been less than forthcoming in describing the extent of the NSA programs.

“We’re also not going out and seeking to read [American] people’s electronic communications,” then-National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon told reporters in the days after the leak. “We would have to go back and obtain a warrant to pursue further collection on the content of any U.S. individual’s communications.”

The Times report specifically states that the NSA “is systematically searching — without warrants — through the contents of Americans’ communications that cross the border.”

Government officials told the newspaper that the cross-border surveillance is authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act of 2008, which allows electronic surveillance on domestic soil without warrants as long as the “target” is a foreigner abroad.

An NSA spokeswoman did not respond directly to questions about the program, the Times stated.

Instead, Judith A. Emmel said the NSA activities are lawful and intended to gather intelligence, not about Americans, but about “foreign powers and their agents, foreign organizations, foreign persons or international terrorists.”

“In carrying out its signals intelligence mission, NSA collects only what it is explicitly authorized to collect,” she said.

The authority comes from an 18-page set of rules for implementing the 2008 law approved by the secret FISA court, which the Guardian newspaper obtained from Mr. Snowden and posted online June 20.

One rule, the only one marked “top secret,” states that the agency “seeks to acquire communications about the target that are not to or from the target.”

The rule “went largely overlooked amid other disclosures,” the Times stated.

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