- The Washington Times - Friday, November 20, 2015

The National Security Agency officially ended an electronic surveillance program in 2011 which had allowed the government to gather email data from American citizens, but NSA spies have been able to continue collecting that information through other endeavors, newly unearthed documents have revealed.

Despite officially pulling the plug on its email metadata collection program before it came to light in 2013 through unauthorized disclosures, the NSA has nevertheless maintained the ability to suck up sensitive information concerning electronic correspondence, the New York Times reported on Thursday.

While the NSA ended a program four years ago that had allowed the agency to collect email records in bulk through an interpretation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, an inspector general’s report obtained by the paper revealed that the same information previously acquired through FISA is being obtained by the government nonetheless.

By relying on various loopholes, the NSA’s eavesdropping capabilities have largely stayed in tact, the report suggests.

An excerpt from the audit notes “other authorities can satisfy certain foreign intelligence requirements” that the now-defunct bulk email records program “had been designed to meet,” Charlie Savage wrote for the Times.

“The document makes it clear that NSA is able to get all the Internet metadata it needs through foreign collection,” Timothy Edgar, a privacy official in both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, explained to the Times with respect to the report.

“The change it made to its procedures in 2010 allowed it to exploit metadata involving Americans. Once that change was made, it was no longer worth the effort to collect Internet metadata inside the United States, in part because doing so requires NSA to deal with” restrictions by the FISA court, he said.

Indeed, NSA documents leaked to the media previously by Edward Snowden, a former intelligence contractor, revealed that the spy agency has deployed a multi-prong approach in recent years to assure that signals intelligence is collected by any means necessary.

Within the internal report, the inspector general noted that the NSA continued to sufficiently gather email metadata by intercepting it outside of America’s borders and using a provision of the 2008 FISA Amendments Act that authorizes surveillance against foreign persons, even if they’re within the United States.

With respect to the former, Mr. Savage suggested that the NSA relies on a tactic previously exposed by Edward Snowden in which the government hacks into the fiber-optic cables that carry digital transmissions around the globe to give the agency access to sought after information without running afoul of American laws.

The NSA declined to speak to the paper ahead of Thursday’s publication. A similar metadata collection program that allowed the agency to gather call records from U.S. citizens, meanwhile, is slated to expire later this month pursuant to recent passage of the USA Freedom Act, a supposed NSA-reform bill introduced in the aftermath of the Snowden leaks.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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