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Senators raise alarm about secret CIA data-collection program
The unnamed program was one of two detailed in the CIA‘s Deep Dive I and Deep Dive II reports, which the Associated Press described as a “repository” of classified data. In a statement to the Washington Examiner, the CIA defended its actions in the face of criticism by Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, two Democrats on the Intelligence Committee, who are raising concerns about civil liberties
“CIA recognizes and takes very seriously our obligation to respect the privacy and civil liberties of US persons in the conduct of our vital national security mission, and conducts our activities, including collection activities, in compliance with U.S. law, Executive Order 12333, and our Attorney General guidelines. CIA is committed to transparency consistent with our obligation to protect intelligence sources and methods,” said Kristi Scott, the CIA’s privacy and civil liberties officer.
Specifics of the unnamed program in Deep Dive II, which are the focus of the senators, are classified, but they appear to be related to national security activities. The second program in Deep Dive I was related to collecting financial data against the Islamic State group.
In a press release Thursday, Wyden and Heinrich said they were not fully aware of the nature of the unnamed program until last year despite being members of the Intelligence Committee.
“Throughout this period, the CIA has secretly conducted its own bulk program [redacted]. It has done so 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 with FISA collection. This basic fact has been kept from the public and from Congress. Until the PCLOB report was delivered last month, the nature and full extent of the CIA’s collection was withheld even from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence,” the senators said in a letter to the CIA director last April that was declassified Thursday.
The reports came from the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which announced it would probe the two programs in 2014. The result was the Deep Dive I and Deep Dive II reports, which assessed the two programs’ effects on civil liberties. Wyden and Heinrich asked for those reports to be declassified in their letter to CIA Director William Burns last year. In their press release Thursday, the senators called for increased transparency regarding the CIA’s bulk collection.
“FISA gets all the attention because of the periodic congressional reauthorizations and the release of DOJ, ODNI and FISA Court documents,” Wyden and Heinrich said, referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. “But 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.”
Both reports had two sections, according to the CIA. A redacted version of both sections of Deep Dive I was released to the public. The first section of Deep Dive II, which contained information about the unnamed program, was not released to the public. Only a redacted version of the second section of Deep Dive II was released, which contained staff recommendations.
The CIA said the two programs were authorized by Executive Order 12333, signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, which requires the heads of other intelligence agencies to share request information with the CIA. The CIA also said in a Q&A release that it had kept Congress “apprised” of its activities, and it has been working to follow the recommendations in both Deep Dive reports.
News of the program has sparked renewed concerns over the intelligence community’s surveillance of American citizens and possible infringements upon civil liberties. The American Civil Liberties Union said Congress should put an end to such programs.
“These reports raise serious questions about the kinds of information the CIA is vacuuming up in bulk and how the agency exploits that information to spy on Americans. The CIA conducts these sweeping surveillance activities without any court approval, and with few, if any, safeguards imposed by Congress. It’s past time for Congress to put an end to bulk surveillance and to prohibit warrantless ‘backdoor searches’ of Americans’ private data,” Patrick Toomey, senior staff attorney at ACLU’s National Security Project, said in a statement.