Declassified document accuses CIA of bulk collection of data on Americans

A heavily redacted letter claims the agency collects data without any judicial or congressional oversight

Two US senators have accused the CIA of bulk collecting data on citizens following the release of documents disclosing the problems with how the agency searches and handles the information.

In their letter, sent on April 13, 2021, but partially disclosed on Thursday, Democratic Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico asked CIA Director William J. Burns and US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines to declassify the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board’s (PCLOB) study into the CIA’s intelligence gathering on Americans under Executive Order 12333 – an order passed by Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1981, which expanded the power of intelligence agencies.

“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, before adding that “the secret nature of the CIA’s activities described in the PCLOB report raise these very concerns.”

Wyden and Heinrich accused the CIA of acting “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

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The two senators also observed that despite Congress and the American public’s longstanding desire to “prohibit the warrantless collection of Americans’ records,” the CIA has “secretly conducted its own bulk program.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) claimed on Thursday that the newly declassified documents “reveal that the CIA has been secretly conducting massive surveillance programs that capture Americans’ private information,” and that the surveillance was conducted “without any court approval, and with few, if any, safeguards imposed by Congress to protect our civil liberties.”

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. This invasion of our privacy must stop

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden called the accusations “huge,” writing, “This is the systematic construction of a surveillance state that will dominate the rest of our lives.”

“People brushing this off with ‘duh’ or ‘I’m not surprised’ should take this seriously: elections are months away. Vote out any politician who defends this in the slightest way,” Snowden added.

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