The Pentagon on Wednesday published revised procedures governing the collection, retention and dissemination of intelligence concerning American citizens.
Outlined within the pages of DoD Manual 5240.01, “Procedures Governing the Conduct of DoD Intelligence Activities,” the changes pertain to how the U.S. military and assorted government agencies sweep up and store information concerning U.S. persons, including individuals whose details are incidentally collected during the course of investigating foreign targets.
The manual updates provisions first laid out in an Executive Order signed by President Reagan in 1982, in turn incorporating new language and instructions for intelligence gathering to apply in a digitally-connected world that would have been impossible to imagine 30 years earlier.
“The procedures were carefully and methodically developed in 1982 and they’ve served us well for the many years since then,” Michael Mahar, the Pentagon’s senior intelligence oversight official, told DoD News. “But we’ve reached the point now that, due to changes in technology, law and intelligence-collection practices, we were compelled to do a significant overhaul.”
“We went line by line, procedure by procedure,” Mr. Mahar added, all while Pentagon officials went over proposed changes with top-ranking members of the intelligence community, including National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office and National Security Agency employees, among others.
The end result, Mr. Mahar said, is a 56-page manual that officially went into effect on Monday this week after being approved by both Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.
Among the changes that appear in a copy of the manual released publicly by the Pentagon this week are updates affecting how long the government can store information concerning U.S. persons, as well as a new provision encouraging investigators to use the least intrusive and collection techniques feasible within the U.S., beginning with examining publicly available sources before resorting to informants, wire taps, judicial warrants and other legal mechanisms.
With respect to data retention, the manual says the government can only hold on to information concerning U.S. persons who have been either intentionally or incidentally surveilled by the intelligence community for a period of five years if the person is reasonably believed to reside within the country. Another change assures that time-frame begins the moment data is collected and not simply “officially accept[ed]…for use” as previously stated, forcing the government to go against the clock upon receipt in order to review information before it must be purged from its systems.
The NSA has previously called Executive Order 12333 a “foundational authority by which NSA collects, retains, analyzes and disseminates foreign signals’ intelligence information,” the likes of which primarily targets “communications by foreign persons that occur wholly outside the United States.” In 2014, however, a State Department official-turned-whistleblower, John Tye, said that innocent Americans are immensely affected by how the executive order is applied.
“My complaint is not that they’re using it to target Americans, my complaint is that the volume of incidental collection on US persons is unconstitutional,” Mr. Tye told Ars Technica at the time.