According to two Democratic senators, the CIA secretly, and without authorization, collected data that could violate the privacy of American citizens.
On April 13, 2021, in a letter to the Director of National Intelligence, Avril D. Haines, and the Director of the CIA, William J. Burns, Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) called for “declassification” of the “Executive Order 12333 Central Intelligence Agency Deep Dive II” report expressing concern about how the agency in question collected data in bulk from Americans.
“During your confirmation processes, you expressed a commitment to greater transparency and an appreciation for how secret interpretations of law undermine democratic oversight and pose risks to the long-term credibility of the Intelligence Community,” the senators wrote. “The secret nature of the CIA’s activities described in the PCLOB report raise these very concerns.”
According to The New York Times, it was in March 2021 when the Senate Intelligence Committee received the PCLOB report. A month later, Wyden and Heinrich sent the letter to Haines and Burns complaining about the agency for not alerting the committee about the activity the intelligence agency was conducting.
Referring to the 2015 ban on bulk collection of telecommunications metadata under the Patriot Act by Congress, the Democratic senators recalled that the legislature has seen to “limit” and at times “prohibit the warrantless collection of Americans’ records, as well as the public’s intense interest in and support for these legislative efforts.”
“And yet, throughout this period, the CIA secretly conducted its own bulk program” under Executive Order 12333, Wyden and Heinrich added in the letter.
“It has done so entirely outside the statutory framework that Congress and the public believe govern this collection, and without any of the judicial, congressional or even executive branch oversight that comes with FISA collection. This basic fact has been kept from the public and from Congress. Until the PCLOB report was delivered last month, the nature and full extent of the CIA’s collection was withheld even from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.”
The senators explained in the missive that Americans deserve to know, in detail, “the nature of the CIA’s relationship with its sources and the legal framework for the collection; the kind of records collected the amount of Americans’ records maintained; and the rules governing the use, storage. dissemination and queries (including U.S. person queries) of the records.”
“This declassification is urgent,” they insisted.
Times insider denounces committee
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a New York Times intelligence source said “that the Intelligence Committee did already know about the agency’s classified collection of the data itself.”
“The Deep Dive II report, the official said, instead focused on repository and analysis tools for storing and querying that data after its collection — systems the committee may not previously have been told about,” read a Times report.
Kristi Scott, the intelligence agency’s head of privacy and civil liberties, told The Associated Press in a statement that “CIA recognizes and takes very seriously our obligation to respect the privacy and civil liberties of U.S. persons in the conduct of our vital national security mission.”
“CIA is committed to transparency consistent with our obligation to protect intelligence sources and methods,” Scott said.
Reactions to the declassified letter against the CIA
While the letter from Senators Wyden and Heinrich does not specifically read what data was collected by the intelligence agency, the declassified complaint has already begun to cause media controversy.
“These reports raise serious questions about what information of ours the CIA is vacuuming up in bulk and how the agency exploits that information to spy on Americans,” the ACLU, a leading nonprofit, nonpartisan legal and advocacy organization, denounced on Twitter. “This invasion of our privacy must stop.”
Former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who in 2020 gained Russian permanent residency following charges levied by the Department of Justice after the leak that laid bare NSA global surveillance programs, also weighed in on Twitter about the Democratic senators’ complaint.