The Central Intelligence Agency, a foreign intelligence agency that should not operate within the domestic US, has been collecting in bulk US citizens’ data. This collection has taken place without a warrant and outside any statutory regime, such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Instead, this surveillance has taken place under Executive Order 12333 and is based on “inherent executive authorities.”
What this data is, or any other details about the program, remain a mystery. What is known is that in March, 2021 the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) completed a classified report on CIA activities under E0 12333. The contents of this secret report alarmed Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) enough that the following month they sent a letter to National Intelligence Director Avril Haines and CIA Director William Burns, urging them to declassify the report. The letter claimed that the Senate Intelligence had not been informed of this program and that its existence was contrary to the American people’s understanding of how legislation had limited bulk collection of their data.
This letter was also classified.
It was only last night that it was released, although not without redactions, making it impossible to determine what type of data is being collected. The PCLOB report remains classified, but a heavily redacted document of staff recommendations was released last night.
The classification system is the product of executive power. In 1971 Senator Mike Gravel used his constitutional powers to enter the classified Pentagon Papers into the Congressional record. Since then, unfortunately, Congress has consistently shown cowardice in the face of executive classification of abuses of power. The courts have similarly shown unwarranted deference. And when public officials are motivated by conscience to inform the US people about their own government’s abuse of power, they have been ruthlessly prosecuted under the Espionage Act
“These latest revelations reveal how out of control the surveillance state is. The CIA gathering Americans data based solely on inherent executive authority shows an intelligence community that is completely out of control. But it is also an indictment of the current ‘oversight’ system that the CIA cannot only get away with concealing their bad acts from the American public, but when they are exposed they face no real consequences for their illegal and unconstitutional activities,” said Chip Gibbons, Policy Director, Defending Rights & Dissent.
Advocates and journalists are busy sleuthing out exactly what the CIA was doing, what data they were collecting, and how it impacted US persons. One clue is that shortly after the Intelligence Committee received the PCLOB report, Senators Wyden and Heinrich introduced The Fourth Amendment is Not for Sale Act. It seems quite possible that the CIA was actually buying the data to skirt the 4th Amendment.