For the first time since whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s National Security Agency leaks, top intelligence officials have stated that the agency has used a “backdoor” in security laws to search the communications data of U.S. citizens without a warrant.
The revelation came in a letter Director of National Intelligence James Clapper sent to Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
“There have been queries, using US person identifiers, of communications lawfully acquired to obtain foreign intelligence targeting non-US persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States,” Clapper wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The Guardian.
“These queries were performed pursuant to minimization procedures approved by the Fisa court and consistent with the statute and the fourth amendment.”
Wyden had previously decried the agency’s use of a “backdoor loophole” that allowed the NSA access to Americans’ communications data. But even with all of the evidence presented in the Snowden leaks, intelligence officials didn’t, until now, acknowledge its existence.
While Clapper did not reveal to the Senator how many Americans have been spied on using the “backdoor,” the so-called loophole affects the NSA’s ability to spy on Americans through many of its controversial programs.
According to The Guardian, the NSA exploits procedures approved by the FISA court in 2011, which “allowed the agency to search for U.S. person data,” to search databases that include information on U.S. citizens that may have inadvertently been swept into the intelligence agency’s vast databases.
The newspaper reported: “The ruling appears to give the agency free access to search for information relating to US people within its vast databases, though not to specifically collect information against US citizens in the first place. However, until the DNI’s disclosure to Wyden, it was not clear whether the NSA had ever actually used these powers.”
Meanwhile, journalist Glenn Greenwald, who broke the NSA story, criticized intelligence officials this week for leaking information about NSA operations in foreign countries to the press in an effort to quell Americans’ outrage about its domestic operations.
“Over the last 40 years, the U.S. government has relied on extreme fear-mongering to demonize transparency,” Greenwald wrote on The Intercept.
The journalist then pointed to a recent FOX News headline that read “NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander says future Snowden leaks could lead to deaths.”
If that’s true, according to Greenwald, some top intelligence officials will likely have blood on their hands.
In a recent Los Angeles Times article a former top NSA official disclosed how the agency is “able to collect, sort and make available every Iraqi email, text message and phone-location signal in real time …”
“What is so extraordinary is that the NSA–at exactly the same time it is telling news organizations that disclosing its collect-it-all activities will endanger its personnel–runs to its favorite L.A. Times reporter and does exactly that, for no reason other than to make itself look good and to justify these activities,” Greenwald wrote.