The CIA has secretly collected bulk data related to Americans without a warrant, according to a letter from two senators obtained by the New York Times.
The CIA censored the nature of the data being collected in a newly declassified publicized version of the letter.
Democratic Senators Ron Wyden and Martin Heinrich sent a letter to CIA Director William Burns and National Intelligence chief Avril Haines calling to declassify information about the program.
The letter said that the CIA had not informed the Senate Intelligence Committee of its program.
The letter said the program may run afoul of legislation intended to “limit and, in some cases, prohibit the warrantless collection of Americans’ records.”
Congress in 2015 banned the bulk collection of telecom metadata under the Patriot Act and limited other types of bulk surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Yet “the C.I.A. has secretly conducted its own bulk program” under Executive Order 12333, which governs intelligence activities unregulated by Congress.
“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,” the letter said. “This basic fact has been kept from the public and from Congress.”
CIA redacted report:
The letter came in response to a heavily redacted report by a watchdog panel scrutinizing intelligence community activities under Executive Order 12333.
The senators said the report detailed a program that the CIA did not inform the Intelligence Committee about. An intelligence official told the Times that the panel was aware of the program but may not have been told about certain tools used by the agency.
The report said that the CIA has not fully developed guidelines for processing the data.
The report also said that CIA officials “use an American’s identifier as a query term when searching the unspecified data, a box pops up to remind them that the search must have a foreign intelligence purpose. But the officials are not required to record what that purpose was, and the recommendations urged the agency to do so,” according to the Times.
Kristi Scott, the C.I.A.’s privacy and civil liberties officer, defended the program.
“C.I.A. 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, and conducts our activities, including collection activities, in compliance with U.S. law, Executive Order 12333 and our attorney general guidelines,” she said. “C.I.A. is committed to transparency consistent with our obligation to protect intelligence sources and methods.”
But Wyden and Heinrich urged the CIA to declassify the nature of its relationship with the sources of the data, the types of data it is collecting, and “the rules governing the use, storage, dissemination and queries (including U.S. person queries) of the records.”