The CIA has been operating their own warrantless bulk data collection program despite efforts by Congress to stop them from doing so, according to a newly declassified letter by two Democrat U.S. Senators.
“The C.I.A. kept censored the nature of the data when it declassified the letter,” The New York Times reported. “At the same time, it declared that a report about the same topic, which had prompted the letter, must remain fully classified, except for some heavily redacted recommendations.”
The report about the CIA’s activities came from a watchdog group called the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which monitors operations undertaken by the U.S. intelligence community under Executive Order 12333.
“In March 2021, the Senate Intelligence Committee received a copy of the report,” the Times added. “In a letter the next month, two Democrats on the panel, Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, urged Avril D. Haines, the director of national intelligence, and William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, to declassify the activity and any internal rules about querying the data for information about Americans.”
Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) wrote in part to Burns and Haines:
During your confirmation processes, you expressed a commitment to greater transparency and an appreciation for how secret interpretations of law undermine democratic oversight and pose risks to the long-term credibility of the Intelligence Community. The secret nature of the CIA’s activities described in the PCLOB report raise these very concerns.
This history demonstrates Congress’s clear intent, expressed over many years and through multiple pieces of legislation, to limit and, in some cases, prohibit the warrantless collection of Americans’ records, as well as the public’s intense interest in and support for these legislative efforts. And yet, throughout this period, the CIA has secretly conducted its own bulk program [redacted]. 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. 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 called the needed declassification “urgent,” saying that it is “critical that Congress not legislate without awareness of a [redacted] CIA program, and that the American public not be misled into believing that the reforms in any reauthorization legislation fully cover the IC’s collection of their records.”
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