CIA is collecting clandestine bulk data on Americans without consent of Congress, senators warn in letter

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Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) are calling for transparency from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) concerning a clandestine bulk data collection effort that among many targets is often aimed at regular American citizens.

The pair of Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee penned an April 13, 2021 letter sent to Avril D. Haines, the director of national intelligence, and William J. Burns, the CIA director, in an effort to learn more about the program – a program that was never congressionally approved.

The letter was partly declassified on Thursday – right in time for everyone to forget about it over the weekend – and asserts that the CIA is working “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 [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] collection.”

The program has proceeded under the auspices of Executive Order 12333, a directive with broad and hazy parameters concerning intelligence that was first signed by former President Ronald Reagan in 1981. It extended greater powers to intelligence agencies and insisted they cooperate fully with any CIA demands. It was enhanced by Executive Order 13355, called “Strengthened Management of the Intelligence Community” on August 27, 2004, and on July 30, 2008, former President George W. Bush issued Executive Order 13470, which yet again amended Executive Order 12333 and further strengthened the role of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI).

The CIA and National Security Agency are supposedly not chartered for domestic surveillance but in their efforts to obtain information on foreign adversaries they often retrieve (and likely keep) data on the innocuous communications of everyday Americans.

Kristi Scott, the CIA’s privacy and civil liberties officer, told the Wall Street Journal in a statement that the agency takes privacy and civil liberties “very seriously.” She insists that all collection activities are conducted in compliance with the law, including the executive order(s) in question.

An unnamed intelligence official told the New York Times that the Senate committee was aware of the CIA’s classified collection of the data, but Sens. Heinrich and Wyden are calling for more clarity on the methods of collection and the legal framework within which the agency claims to operate.

For their arguably pathetic contribution to the truth, 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.

While the pair of senators were appreciative of the submission, they made sure that their request “also stressed that the public deserves to know more about the collection of this information. The DNI and the CIA Director have started this process. We intend to continue to urge them to achieve the transparency the American people deserve.”


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