Senators: CIA has secret program that collects American data

CIA has a secret surveillance program called ‘Deep Dive’ that has been collecting Americans’ personal information for YEARS without congressional approval, Democratic Senators say

  • Democratic Senators Ron Wyden and Martin Heinrich have called for a probe
  • They wrote top intelligence officials and demanded information
  • Wyden and Heinrich said the program operated ‘outside the statutory framework that Congress and the public believe govern this collection’
  • The Senators claim the CIA have long hidden details from the public and Congress 

The CIA has been collecting the personal information of Americans for years in a secret surveillance program that has no congressional approval, according to a newly declassified letter released by a pair of Democratic senators said late Thursday night.  

Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico are branding the collection ‘warrantless backdoor searches.’ They sent a letter to top intelligence officials calling more details about the program to be declassified and demanded immediate action.

The program is ‘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,’ the senators wrote.

The CIA also released parts of the still-classified programs ‘Deep Dive I and Deep Dive II’, which are believed to be massive data repositories – but in heavily redacted material.

The senators invoked Congress’ ‘clear intent, expressed over many years and through multiple pieces of legislation, to limit and, in some case, prohibit the warrantless collection of Americans’ records, as well as the public’s intense interest in an support for these legislative efforts. And yet, throughout this period, the CIA has secretly conducted its own bulk program’ – with the next piece of text in their letter blacked out.

The members of the Senate Intelligence Committee sent the letter asking about the program on April 13, 2021 – but it wasn’t declassified until Thursday and large parts of it were redacted.

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board had provided the Senate Intelligence Committee with a report on the program in March, 2021. 

According to Wyden and Heinrich’s letter, the CIA’s bulk collection program operates outside of laws passed and reformed by Congress, but under the authority of Executive Order 12333, the document that broadly governs intelligence community activity and was first signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

They demanded the CIA inform the public, reveal what type of information had been collected, the amount that had been obtained and how often searches were conducted. ‘This declassification is urgent,’ the Wyden and Heinrich wrote

Neither the agency or the lawmakers disclosed specifics about the data, but the senators alleged The CIA had long hidden details about the program from the public and Congress. 

It is not clear when the surveillance occurred or what type of data of was mined from Americans.

The CIA has a secret, undisclosed data repository that includes information collected about Americans, two Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee said 

Democratic Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico sent a letter to top intelligence officials calling for more details about the program to be declassified. Large portions of it were redacted 

There have long been concerns about what information the intelligence community collects domestically, driven in part by previous violations of Americans’ civil liberties. 

The senators wrote in response to the partial data release: ”FISA gets all the attention because of the periodic congressional reauthorizations’ and release of documents.

‘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.’ 

An intelligence official told the New York Times that the Intelligence Committee knew about the CIA’s classified data collection – but that it may not have been told about the report on ‘repository and analysis tools for storing and querying that data after its collection.’ 

Campaign groups slammed intelligence agencies after the Senators’ letter became public and said it was an intrusion on privacy.

The ACLU said: ‘These reports raise serious questions about what information of ours the CIA is vacuuming up in bulk and how the agency exploits that information to spy on Americans. This invasion of our privacy must stop.’

The CIA and National Security Agency have a foreign mission and are generally barred from investigating Americans or U.S. businesses. But the spy agencies´ sprawling collection of foreign communications often snares Americans’ messages and data incidentally.

Intelligence agencies are required to take steps to protect U.S. information, including redacting the names of any Americans from reports unless they are deemed relevant to an investigation. The process of removing redactions is known as ‘unmasking.’

‘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,’ Kristi Scott, the agency’s privacy and civil liberties officer, said in a statement. ‘CIA is committed to transparency consistent with our obligation to protect intelligence sources and methods.’

The CIA released a series of redacted recommendations about the program issued by an oversight panel known as the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. According to the document, a pop-up box warns CIA analysts using the program that seeking any information about U.S. citizens or others covered by privacy laws requires a foreign intelligence purpose.

‘However, analysts are not required to memorialize the justification for their queries,’ the board said.

Both senators have long pushed for more transparency from the intelligence agencies. Nearly a decade ago, a question Wyden posed to the nation’s spy chief presaged critical revelations about the NSA’s mass-surveillance programs.


Heinrich (left) and Wyden (right) have said the details of the program should be made public and have called for more transparency from intelligence agencies 

The CIA released a series of redacted recommendations about the program issued by an oversight panel known as the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board

Both senators have long pushed for more transparency from the intelligence agencies. Nearly a decade ago, a question Wyden posed to the nation’s spy chief presaged critical revelations about the NSA’s mass-surveillance programs

In 2013, Wyden asked then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper if the NSA collected ‘any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.’ Clapper initially responded, ‘No.’ He later said, ‘Not wittingly.’

Former systems administrator Edward Snowden later that year revealed the NSA´s access to bulk data through U.S. internet companies and hundreds of millions of call records from telecommunications providers. Those revelations sparked worldwide controversy and new legislation in Congress.

Clapper would later apologize in a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee, calling his response to Wyden ‘clearly erroneous.’

‘It is critical that Congress not legislate without awareness of a … CIA program, and that the American public not be misled into believe that the reforms in any reauthorization legislation fully cover the IC’s collection of their records,’ the senators wrote in their letter. There was a redaction in the letter before ‘CIA program.’

Additional documents released by the CIA Thursday also revealed limited details about a program to collect financial data against the Islamic State. That program also has incidentally snared some records held by Americans.

Intelligence agencies are subject to guidelines on the handling and destruction of Americans´ data. Those guidelines and laws governing intelligence activity have evolved over time in response to previous revelations about domestic spying.

The FBI spied on the U.S. civil rights movement and secretly recorded the conversations of Dr. Martin Luther King. The CIA, in what was called Operation Chaos, investigated whether the movement opposing the Vietnam War had links to foreign countries.

‘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,’ Patrick Toomey, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. ‘The CIA conducts these sweeping surveillance activities without any court approval, and with few, if any, safeguards imposed by Congress.’

Source: Read Full Article