Spy boss: NSA performed warrantless searches on American phone calls

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Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (L) with Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn (R) appear at a Congressional hearing in an undated photo. [Photo: Department of Defense]

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (L) with Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn (R) appear at a Congressional hearing in an undated photo. [Photo: Department of Defense]

The National Security Agency performed an unknown number of warrantless searches on the phone calls and e-mail messages of American citizens, according to a letter penned by a top intelligence boss.

The letter, first reported by The Guardian on Tuesday, was authored by the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to Senator Ron Wyden, a congressman from Oregon who has been an outspoken critic of the NSA’s once-secret surveillance programs.

In the letter, Clapper acknowledged that data belonging to Americans had been used in some cases to “acquired to obtain foreign intelligence targeting non-US persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States.” Clapper said the intelligence collection was legal due to a “back door” in surveillance law, according to The Guardian.

“These queries were performed pursuant to minimization procedures approved by the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance] (FISA) court and consistent with the statute and the Fourth Amendment,” Clapper wrote.

Last Friday, Clapper’s office quietly released three new documents related to FISA court orders on the subject of the NSA’s bulk telephone metadata program. In one order, a FISA judge wrote that key government officials had repeatedly misled the court with respect to how data was acquired, stored and searched by the intelligence agency.

“It appears that the NSA, or at least those persons within the NSA with knowledge of the governing minimization procedures, are still in the process of determining how the NSA’s own systems work,” FISA Court Judge Reggie Walton wrote. “No one inside or outside of the NSA can represent with adequate certainty whether the NSA is complying with those procedures.”

General Keith Alexander, then the Director of the NSA, admitted that “there was no single person who had a complete technical understanding of the [telephone data collection]system architecture,” which “contributed to the inaccurate description of the alert list that the NSA included in its [reports]to the Court.”

Last week, the FISA Court approved a 90-day extension of the bulk call records collection program.

The Guardian: NSA performed warrantless searches on calls, emails, Clapper says
Document: Clapper’s March 2014 letter to Wyden on NSA surveillance