60 Days After Being Asked, James Clapper Finally Answers Ron Wyden's Question About Collecting US Citizens' Communications
from the and-it's-a-'yes;'-it's-ALWAYS-a-'yes' dept
The game of 20 questions (National Security Edition) has finally paid off, weeks after the question was asked. Ron Wyden, one of the few legislators willing to pin down (or at least attempt to -- the NATSEC reps are a slippery bunch) exactly what the NSA is up to, has received a response to one his pointed questions. (Wyden's ability to ask precisely the right question has pretty much turned any intel official's answer along the lines of "we can't discuss this publicly for national security reasons" into a de facto "yes.")
[I]n a letter to Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat on the intelligence committee, the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, has confirmed for the first time this backdoor had been used in practice to search for data related to “US persons”.So, there's the admission Wyden was seeking back on January 29th, but the story goes back much further than that. This is something that has been denied and obfuscated since the leaks began back in June of last year. The NSA (along with other agencies most likely) can grab American's communications without a warrant. It claims this is all legit because the agency "reasonably believes" these communications serve its foreign intelligence directive.
“There have been queries, using US person identifiers, of communications lawfully acquired to obtain foreign intelligence targeting non-US persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States,” Clapper wrote in the letter, which has been obtained by the Guardian.
“These queries were performed pursuant to minimization procedures approved by the Fisa court and consistent with the statute and the fourth amendment.”
Clapper disingenuously points out that this was discussed during the debate over the renewal of Section 702 late last year.
“As you know, when Congress reauthorized Section 702, the proposal to restrict such queries was specifically raised and ultimately not adopted,” Clapper wrote.Of course, no one had access to this information as Clapper and others had yet to officially acknowledge this backdoor.
But someone did know about this backdoor, and he's known about it for months: new director of the NSA, Mike Rogers.
It has taken just 9 months for Clapper to admit that, contrary to months of denials, the NSA (and FBI, which he doesn’t confirm but which the Report makes clear, as well as the CIA) can get the content of Americans’ communications without a warrant.Again, the NSA, for all intents and purposes, has no oversight. Ron Wyden serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee and he's one of the few in this position who will actually attempt to extract info from closed-lipped intelligence officials. Despite his efforts, it took two months for him to obtain an answer that was declassified in August 2013. That's how the system actually works, but those defending the obfuscation artists charged with national security keep foisting their utopian dreamscape of checks and balances on the agency's many critics.
But Clapper’s admission that this fact was declassified in August should disqualify Vice Admiral Mike Rogers from confirmation as CyberComm head (I believe he started serving as DIRNSA head, which doesn’t require confirmation, yesterday). Because it means Rogers refused to answer a question the response to which was already declassified.