U.S. Releases More Documents On NSA Surveillance Origins
WASHINGTON (AP) – The director of national intelligence on Saturday declassified more documents that outline how the National Security Agency was first authorized to start collecting bulk phone and Internet records in the hunt for al-Qaida terrorists and how a court eventually gained oversight of the program, after the Justice Department complied with a federal court order to release its previous legal arguments for keeping the programs secret.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper explained in a statement that President George W. Bush first authorized the spying in October 2001.
Bush disclosed the program in 2005. The Terrorist Surveillance Program – which had to be extended every 30-60 days by presidential order – eventually was replaced by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act – a law that requires a secret court to OK the bulk collection.
Clapper also released federal court documents from successive intelligence directors arguing to keep the programs secret, after a California judge this fall ordered the administration to declassify whatever details already had been revealed as part of the White House’s campaign to justify the NSA surveillance. Former agency contractor Edward Snowden first made the surveillance programs public in leaks to the media.
President Barack Obama hinted Friday that he would consider some changes to NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records to address the public’s concern about privacy. His comments came in a week where a federal judge declared NSA’s collection program “unconstitutional,” and a presidential advisory panel suggested 46 changes to NSA operations.
The judge said there was little evidence any terror plot had been thwarted by the program, known as Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. The advisory panel recommended continuing the program but requiring a court order for each NSA search of the phone records database, and keeping that database in the hands of a third party – not the government.