US declassifies surveillance order amid snooping debate

Jul 31, 2013 by Michael Mathes
An undated handout image received on January 25, 2006 shows the US National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland.

The Obama administration on Wednesday declassified a court order authorizing collection of millions of US phone records, even as it faced new disclosures about the reach of its secret electronic surveillance programs.

Under mounting pressure from lawmakers, Deputy Attorney General James Cole said the newly declassified order spells out how the government can use the call data obtained from telecom giants like Verizon.

"The terms under which the government may access or use the records is covered by (a) detailed court order that the DNI declassified and released today," Cole told senators.

That primary order "provides that the government can search the data only if it has reasonable articulable suspicion that the telephone number being searched is associated with certain terrorist organizations."

The move to confront growing public and congressional opposition to the secret programs came as the administration faced new disclosures from Edward Snowden, the former intelligence contractor at the heart of the controversy.

The latest documents obtained by him and published by the British daily the Guardian revealed the existence of a secret known as XKeyscore that allows US intelligence to monitor "nearly everything a typical user does on the Internet."

The Guardian said the hitherto secret program was the most wide-reaching operated by the National Security Agency.

XKeyscore's existence proved the truth of Snowden's earlier claim, denied by some US officials, that before he quit the NSA he could " anyone, from you or your accountant, to a or even the president, if I had a personal email," it said.

Snowden, who is now stranded in the transit area of a Moscow airport, fled the country after downloading NSA files that have made for one bombshell disclosure after another.

File picture for ilklustration shows telecom network cables. The Obama administration on Wednesday declassified a court order authorizing collection of millions of US phone records, even as it faced new disclosures about the reach of its secret electronic surveillance programs.

Since he disclosed the vast scale of the operations in June, in the US has shifted against them.

At a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Cole and US intelligence officers defended the data gathering program as necessary to maintain national security,

But the panel's chairman, Senator Patrick Leahy, sharply questioned the usefulness of the information gathered.

"If this program is not effective, it must end. And so far, I am not convinced by what I have seen" Leahy said.

Officials said the data gathered from the program has contributed to the disruption of 54 terror threats or events, including 13 on US soil.

Deputy FBI director Sean Joyce insisted that the telephone data program, authorized by the Patriot Act that came into law shortly after the 9/11 attacks of 2011, has played a crucial role in "closing the gaps and seams" of intelligence gathering.

"We must have the dots to connect the dots," Joyce said.

Leahy was not buying it, saying there would always be more "dots" to collect and analyze. "The government is already collecting data on millions of innocent Americans on a daily basis, based on a secret legal interpretation of a statute that does not on its face appear to authorize this type of bulk collection," Leahy said.

"What will be next? And when is enough, enough?"

During the occasionally tense hearing, the counsel for the Director of National Intelligence said the White House has willing to consider changes to the how the secret program is conducted and publicized.

"We are open to re-evaluating this program in ways that perhaps can provide greater confidence and public trust," said DNI general counsel Robert Litt.

Leahy appeared to welcome the approach, adding that "there are going to be some proposals to changes in law."

But his Democratic colleage Dianne Feinstein, chair of the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee, warned against efforts that would severely hamstring US phone or Internet data collection operations.

"We would place this nation in jeopardy if we eliminate these programs," she said.

Explore further: 5G mobile networks will support an internet that's so good you can feel it

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Secret court OKs continued US phone surveillance

Jul 21, 2013

(AP)—A secret U.S. intelligence court renewed an order Friday to continue forcing Verizon Communications to turn over hundreds of millions of telephone records to the government each day in its search for foreign terror ...

Spy program gathered Americans' Internet records

Jun 27, 2013

(AP)—The Obama administration gathered U.S. citizens' Internet data until 2011, continuing a spying program started under President George W. Bush that revealed whom Americans exchanged emails with and the Internet Protocol ...

US spy chief: Plot against Wall Street foiled

Jun 18, 2013

The U.S. foiled a plot to bomb the New York Stock Exchange because of the sweeping surveillance programs at the heart of a debate over national security and personal privacy, officials said Tuesday at a rare ...

Secret court opens door to unsealing Yahoo! documents

Jul 16, 2013

The secret US court overseeing national security investigations has opened the door to declassifying documents related to the government's data collection program in a case involving Internet giant Yahoo!

Recommended for you

The New York Times to cut 100 newsroom jobs

8 minutes ago

The New York Times Co. says it is cutting about 100 newsroom jobs through buyouts and layoffs in an effort to trim costs and focus more on its digital efforts.

Minimally invasive surgery with hydraulic assistance

50 minutes ago

Endoscopic surgery requires great manual dexterity on the part of the operating surgeon. Future endoscopic instruments equipped with a hydraulic control system will provide added support during minimally ...

Engineering new vehicle powertrains

1 hour ago

Car engines – whether driven by gasoline, diesel, or electricity – waste an abundance of energy. Researchers are working on ways to stem this wastefulness. Ultramodern test facilities are helping them ...

Analyzing gold and steel – rapidly and precisely

2 hours ago

Optical emission spectrometers are widely used in the steel industry but the instruments currently employed are relatively large and bulky. A novel sensor makes it possible to significantly reduce their size ...

More efficient transformer materials

2 hours ago

Almost every electronic device contains a transformer. An important material used in their construction is electrical steel. Researchers have found a way to improve the performance of electrical steel and ...

Sensor network tracks down illegal bomb-making

3 hours ago

Terrorists can manufacture bombs with relative ease, few aids and easily accessible materials such as synthetic fertilizer. Not always do security forces succeed in preventing the attacks and tracking down ...

User comments : 0