The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has admitted in a letter sent to Senator Ron Wyden that thousands of Americans have been targeted by warrantless surveillance by the NSA last year alone.
The message was sent in response to a question he had asked early last month and, unlike other times when the ODNI beat around the bush, this time around it’s pretty plainspoken.
While it admits to targeting Americans with “backdoor” warrantless surveillance through NSA, CIA, and FBI, the Director of National Intelligence says that they’re not using a legal loophole.
“In calendar year 2013, NSA conducted approximately 9,500 queries of 702-acquired metadata using US person identifiers. Of this total number, approximately 36 percent were duplicative or recurring queries conducted at different times using the same identifiers, but counted as separate queries,” the letter reads.
For its part, the CIA conducted less than 1,900 queries. More important, however, is that the FBI, which also has access to the data trove, doesn’t count how often it queries using US person identifiers because it does not distinguish between US and non-US persons.
“It should be noted that the FBI does not receive all of NSA’s Section 708 collection; rather, the FBI only requests and receives a small percentage of NSA’s total Section 702 collection ad only for those selectors in which the FBI has an investigative interest,” the missive reads.
Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act allows the intelligence agencies to collect data on foreign targets that are believed to be outside of the United States and who have or are believed to have relevant information for an investigation.
US persons cannot be targeted according to the law and neither is picking a target you have no tangible proof on and hoping to return some important information accepted.
The file mentions that the intelligence agencies run these queries in the pool of metadata collected by the National Security Agency. This means that the records include timestamps on conversations, phone numbers of those contacted, email addresses, and more. While this may not seem much, metadata actually helps paint a pretty accurate and extensive picture of the person it belongs to and their habits.
The US House has actually recently voted to cut down funding for such searches, one of the first real steps to reform the mass surveillance apparatus set up by the National Security Agency.
Senator Wyden, an outspoken opponent of the NSA practices, is none too pleased with the intelligence agencies of the United States.
“While intelligence officials have often argued that it is impossible to estimate how many Americans’ communications are getting swept up by the government under Section 702, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has noted that the NSA acquires more than two hundred and fifty million Internet communications every year using Section 702, so even if US communications make up a small fraction of that total, the number of U.S. communications being collected is potentially quite large,” he wrote on the topic.