Two Democrat senators say the CIA has been operating a secret program that collects data on Americans.
Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico sent a letter to intelligence officials looking for additional details about the undisclosed data repository. The letter, sent April 2021, was declassified on Thursday with portions of it blacked out.
Both Wyden and Heinrich are members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
In the letter, Wyden and Heinrich requested the declassification of a report by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board [PCLOB] on a CIA bulk collection program.
A statement released on Thursday by the two Senators said: “The letter, which was declassified and made public today reveals that “the CIA has secretly conducted its own bulk program,” authorized under Executive Order 12333, rather than the laws passed by Congress.
“The letter notes that the program was ‘entirely outside the statutory framework that Congress and the public believe govern this collection, and without any of the judicial, congressional or even executive branch oversight that comes from [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] collection.'"
“What these documents demonstrate is that many of the same concerns that Americans have about their privacy and civil liberties also apply to how the CIA collects and handles information under executive order and outside the FISA law. In particular, these documents reveal serious problems associated with warrantless backdoor searches of Americans, the same issue that has generated bipartisan concern in the FISA context,” Wyden and Heinrich said in the statement.
In the letter addressed to Avril Haines, director of National Intelligence, and William Burns, CIA director, the senators noted: “During your confirmation processes, you expressed a commitment to greater transparency and an appreciation of how secret interpretation of law undermine democratic oversight and pose risks to the long-term credibility of the Intelligence Community. The secret nature of the CIA’s activities described in the PCLOB report raise these very concerns."
According to CBS News, Kristi Scott, the CIA’s privacy and civil liberties officer said in a statement: "CIA recognizes and takes very seriously our obligation to respect the privacy and civil liberties of U.S. persons in the conduct of our vital national security mission. CIA is committed to transparency consistent with our obligation to protect intelligence sources and methods."
The National Security Agency announced in 2015 it was ending its bulk phone surveillance program and replacing it with more tightly targeted surveillance methods.
That move came 2 1/2 years after the controversial program was exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, Reuters reported.
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