Newly declassified documents reveal the Central Intelligence Agency’s previously secret bulk collection program and problems with how it searches and handles Americans’ information, according to Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.).
The two senators sent a letter (pdf) to top intelligence officials in April 2021 calling for more details about the program and for it to be declassified.
Large parts of the letter and documents released by the CIA were declassified Thursday, with large portions redacted.
In their letter, Wyden and Heinrich requested an expedited declassification of a report by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) on the alleged CIA bulk collection program.
That report, called “Deep Dive II,” was part of a set of studies by the watchdog board PCLOB scrutinizing intelligence community operations under Executive Order 12333, a document (pdf) signed by former President Reagan in 1981 that governs intelligence community activity.
PCLOB and its staff members have access to the classified information.
Wyden and Heinrich said in their letter that the program operated “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 senators called for more information on the program to be declassified.
“The CIA has secretly conducted its own bulk program,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter. The rest of the line was blacked out.
“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.
“Among the many details the public deserves to know are the nature of the CIA’s relationship with its sources and the legal framework for the collection” as well as the amount and kind of records being collected on Americans, Wyden and Heinrich said.
They also called on the agency to declassify information on “the rules governing the use, storage, dissemination and queries (including U.S. person queries) of the records,” stating that all of the above was in the public’s “intense” interest.
The PCLOB report noted problems with the CIA’s handling and searching of Americans’ information under the program.
According to portions of the PCLOB report’s (pdf) recommendations declassified by the CIA, 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, the program does not require analysts to provide a justification for their search, according to the recommendations, which urged the agency to require them to do so.
A string of other recommendations was also laid out, including that the CIA should determine how best to address the retention and use of legacy data that may include USP information. Other recommendations were partly redacted.
The U.S. government, including the CIA, is obligated to protect the legal rights and freedoms of all Americans and must collect, analyze and disseminate critical foreign intelligence information to national security policymakers in a manner that is consistent with that requirement.
However, a 2019 survey of Americans conducted by Pew Research Center found that 64 percent were concerned about the way their data is being used by the government.
In a statement to the Washington Examiner, Kristi Scott, the CIA’s privacy and civil liberties officer defended the agency’s actions.
“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,” Scott said.
But Wyden and Heinrich said that the documents demonstrate many of the 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,” lawmakers said.
“While we appreciate the release of the ‘Recommendations from PCLOB Staff’ which highlights problems associated with the handling of Americans’ information, our letter also stressed that the public deserves to know more about the collection of this information,” they said. “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.”
The Epoch Times has contacted a CIA spokesperson for comment.