US intelligence chief backs Internet spy program

Jun 09, 2013 by Jim Kuhnhenn
President Barack Obama gestures during a statment about the Affordable Care Act, Friday, June 7, 2013, in San Jose, Calif. Speaking about the NSA collecting of phone records, the president said`Nobody is listening to your telephone calls,' just numbers and duration. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The top U.S. intelligence official stressed Saturday that a previously undisclosed program for tapping into Internet usage is authorized by Congress, falls under strict supervision of a secret court and cannot intentionally target an American citizen. He decried the revelation of that and another intelligence-gathering program as reckless.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, eager to quell a domestic furor over U.S. spying, took the rare step for the second time in three days of declassifying some details of an intelligence program to respond to media reports about counterterrorism techniques employed by the government.

"Disclosing information about the specific methods the government uses to collect communications can obviously give our enemies a '' of how to avoid detection," he said in a statement.

Clapper said the data collection under the program, first unveiled by the newspapers The Washington Post and The Guardian, was with the approval of the secret Foreign Act Court and with the knowledge of Internet service providers. He emphasized that the government does not act unilaterally to obtain that data from the servers of those providers.

The filed a criminal report with the Justice Department earlier this week in relation to the leaks, Shawn Turner, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said in an email Saturday to The Associated Press.

President defended the counterterrorism methods on Friday and said Americans need to "make some choices" in balancing privacy and security. But the president's response and Clapper's unusual public stance underscore the nerve touched by the disclosures and the sensitivity of the Obama administration to any suggestion that it is trampling on the civil liberties of Americans.

Late Thursday, Clapper declassified some details of a phone records collection program employed by the NSA that aims to obtain from phone companies on an "ongoing, daily basis" the records of its customers' calls. Clapper said that under that court-supervised program, only a small fraction of the records collected ever get examined because most are unrelated to any inquiries into terrorism activities.

This undated photo made available by Google shows the campus-network room at a data center in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Routers and switches allow Google's data centers to talk to each other. The fiber cables run along the yellow cable trays near the ceiling. (AP Photo/Google, Connie Zhou)

His statement and declassification Saturday addressed the Internet scouring program, code-named PRISM, that allowed the NSA and FBI to tap directly into the servers of major U.S. Internet companies such as Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and AOL. Like the phone-records program, PRISM was approved by a judge in a secret court order. Unlike that program, however, PRISM allowed the government to seize actual conversations: emails, video chats, instant messages and more.

Clapper said the program, authorized in the USA Patriot Act, has been in place since 2008, the last year of the George W. Bush administration, and "has proven vital to keeping the nation and our allies safe.

"It continues to be one of our most important tools for the protection of the nation's security," he said.

Among the previously classified information about the Internet data collection that Clapper revealed:

—It is an internal government computer system that allows the government to collect foreign intelligence information from electronic communication service providers under court supervision.

—The government does not unilaterally obtain information from the servers of U.S. electronic communication service providers. It requires approval from a FISA Court judge and is conducted with the knowledge of the provider and service providers supply information when they are legally required to do so.

—The program seeks foreign intelligence information concerning foreign targets located outside the United States.

—The government cannot target anyone under the program unless there is an "appropriate, and documented, foreign intelligence purpose" for the acquisition. Those purposes include prevention of terrorism, hostile cyber activities or nuclear proliferation. The foreign target must be reasonably believed to be outside the United States. It cannot intentionally target any U.S. citizen or any person known to be in the U.S.

—The dissemination of information "incidentally intercepted" about a U.S. person is prohibited unless it is "necessary to understand foreign intelligence or assess its importance, is evidence of a crime, or indicates a threat of death or serious bodily harm.

An aerial view of the NSA's Utah Data Center in Bluffdale, Utah, Thursday, June 6, 2013. The government is secretly collecting the telephone records of millions of U.S. customers of Verizon under a top-secret court order, according to the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The Obama administration is defending the National Security Agency's need to collect such records, but critics are calling it a huge over-reach. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

The Post and the Guardian cited confidential slides and other documents about PRISM for their reports. They named Google, Facebook, Microsoft Corp., Apple Inc., Yahoo Inc., AOL Inc. and Paltalk as companies whose data has been obtained.

All the companies have issued statements asserting that they aren't voluntarily handing over user data. They also are emphatically rejecting newspaper reports indicating that PRISM has opened a door for the NSA to tap directly on the companies' data centers whenever the government pleases.

In his statement, Clapper appeared to support that claim by stressing that the government did not act unilaterally, but with court authority.

The Guardian reported Saturday that it had obtained top-secret documents detailing an NSA tool, called Boundless Informant, that maps the information it collects from computer and telephone networks by country. The paper said the documents show NSA collected almost 3 billion pieces of intelligence from U.S. computer networks over a 30-day period ending in March, which the paper says calls into question NSA statements that it cannot determine how many Americans may be accidentally included in its computer surveillance.

- In this file photo taken Wednesday, April 21, 2010, shows Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence James Clapper. Clapper called the disclosure of an Internet surveillance program "reprehensible" Thursday June 6, 2013 and said it risks Americans' security. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

NSA spokesperson Judith Emmel said Saturday that "current technology simply does not permit us to positively identify all of the persons or locations associated with a given communication." She said it may be possible to determine that a communication "traversed a particular path within the Internet," but added that "it is harder to know the ultimate source or destination, or more particularly the identity of the person represented by the TO:, FROM: or CC: field of an e-mail address or the abstraction of an IP address."

Emmel said communications are filtered both by automated processes and NSA staff to make sure Americans' privacy is respected.

Amid unsettling reports of government spying, Obama assured the nation Friday that "nobody is listening to your telephone calls. What the government is doing, he said, is digesting phone numbers and the durations of calls, seeking links that might "identify potential leads with respect to folks who might engage in terrorism."

While Obama on Friday said the aim of the programs is to make America safe, he offered no specifics about how the surveillance programs have done that.

This undated photo provided by Facebook shows the server room at the company's data center in Prineville, Ore. The revelations that the National Security Agency is perusing millions of U.S. customer phone records at Verizon and snooping on the digital communications stored by nine major Internet services illustrate how aggressively personal data is being collected and analyzed. (AP Photo/Facebook, Alan Brandt)

The revelations have divided Congress and led advocates and some constitutional scholars to accuse Obama of crossing a line in the name of rooting out terror threats.

Obama, himself a constitutional lawyer, strove to calm Americans' fears but also to remind them that Congress and the courts had signed off on the surveillance.

Obama echoed intelligence experts—both inside and outside the government—who predicted that potential attackers will find other, secretive ways to communicate now that they know that their phone and Internet records may be targeted.

An al-Qaida affiliated website on Saturday warned against using the Internet to discuss issues related to militant activities in three long articles on what it called "America's greatest and unprecedented scandal of spying on its own citizens and people in other countries."

"Caution: Oh brothers, it is a great danger revealing PRISM, the greatest American spying project," wrote one member, describing the NSA program that gathers information from major U.S. Internet companies.

"A highly important caution for the Internet jihadis ... American intelligence gets information from Facebook and Google," wrote another.

Explore further: Facebook 'newspaper' spells trouble for media

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User comments : 3

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VendicarE
2.3 / 5 (3) Jun 09, 2013
Note the large warehouse to the left (picture). It is where the NSA keeps the hundreds of thousands of hard drives. They are all indexed and cross referenced, and are available to robot pickers for retrieval should historical analysis be required.
jimbo92107
5 / 5 (1) Jun 10, 2013
This just in: Spy chief wants to spy even more.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (2) Jun 10, 2013
US intelligence chief backs Internet spy program
He just wants to back his own existence. Most of the evil at the Earth just arises from the effort of some people to justify their own existence. As Edward Snowden, NSA files source pointed out, Boston was a criminal act. It was not about surveillance but good, old-fashioned police work. The massive spying of people cannot prohibit the terrorism and it has no better justification, than the jobs and salaries of people involved.

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