Charlie Savage of the New York Times reports:
WASHINGTON — United States intelligence analysts have searched for Americans’ emails and phone calls within the repository of communications that the government collects without a warrant, according to a letter from James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, to Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon.More below the orange pig-in-a-blanket.
The March 28 letter was not the first official confirmation that both the National Security Agency and the C.I.A. had carried out such searches. But its release served to elevate attention to the fact that the activity, which Mr. Wyden has criticized as a “backdoor search” loophole to warrant requirements, was not just theoretical.
Clapper's letter to Wyden is short and plain. Here is the important paragraph:
As reflected in the August 2013 Semiannual Assessment of Compliance with Procedures and Guidelines Issued Pursuant to Section 702. which we declassified and released on August 21, 2013. there have been queries, using U.S. person identifiers, of communications lawfully acquired to obtain foreign intelligence by targeting non U.S. persons reasonably believed to be located outside the U.S. pursuant to Section 702 of FISA. These queries were performed pursuant to minimization procedures approved by the FISA Court as consistent with the statute and the Fourth Amendment. As you know, when Congress reauthorized Section 702, the proposal to restrict such queries was specifically raised and ultimately not adopted.In response to this letter, Senators Wyden and Tom Udall (D-NM) issued a joint statement:
"It is now clear to the public that the list of ongoing intrusive surveillance practices by the NSA includes not only bulk collection of Americans' phone records, but also warrantless searches of the content of Americans' personal communications,"* Wyden and Udall said. "This is unacceptable. It raises serious constitutional questions, and poses a real threat to the privacy rights of law-abiding Americans. If a government agency thinks that a particular American is engaged in terrorism or espionage, the Fourth Amendment requires that the government secure a warrant or emergency authorization before monitoring his or her communications. This fact should be beyond dispute.As Senators Wyden and Udall point out, not only did these warrantless searches occur, but NSA officials have obviously been misleading Congress and the American public with their assurances that such searches would not take place without a warrant.
"Senior officials have sometimes suggested that government agencies do not deliberately read Americans’ emails, monitor their online activity or listen to their phone calls without a warrant. However, the facts show that those suggestions were misleading, and that intelligence agencies have indeed conducted warrantless searches for Americans’ communications using the 'back-door search' loophole in section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Today’s admission by the Director of National Intelligence is further proof that meaningful surveillance reform must include closing the back-door searches loophole and requiring the intelligence community to show probable cause before deliberately searching through data collected under section 702 to find the communications of individual Americans."
Will Clapper's admission provide more impetus for NSA reform in Congress? I think that has a lot to do with us and how much noise we continue to raise about this issue.