The CIA is still conducting broad surveillance of Americans’ phone calls and internet use. On the one hand, maybe this will help gather information needed to prevent terrorist attacks. On the other hand, given the progressive slant of government employees (including many CIA employees), maybe this will lead to political intelligence gathering and misuse of that information.
The administration and its Congressional allies want new powers for the federal government, in the name of fighting “domestic terror.” But it could easily abuse those powers. Patrick Eddington, a former aide to Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ), says the federal government doesn’t need those powers, and would likely abuse them. He discovered that the FBI had opened an investigation into the conservative group Concerned Women for America in the absence of any wrongdoing. (The CWA’s stated purpose is to “protect and promote Biblical values and Constitutional principles through prayer, education, and advocacy.”)
Now, Senator Ron Wyden (D–OR), whose oversight of domestic surveillance ultimately sparked Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing, is publicizing the fact that the CIA is once again conducting bulk collection of Americans’ private records, much like the National Security Agency (NSA). Wyden requested the declassification of a 2021 report by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB). The report, in heavily redacted form, was released on February 10. It disclosed that the CIA had its own bulk data collection outside the review of Congress and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court.
This program is distinct from the NSA surveillance that Edward Snowden revealed 8 years ago. At the time, the NSA contended that Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act authorized the mass collection of Americans’ phone and internet metadata to gather information about potential terrorists. It sought (and received) blanket permission from the FISA Court. In 2015, after Snowden’s whistleblowing, Congress passed the USA Freedom Act, which banned the government from collecting the data in bulk and set tighter rules for access.
This CIA surveillance is governed by Executive Order 12333, which was first issued in 1981, and is not under the purview of the FISA Court. Nevertheless, there are supposed to be precautions to ensure that the CIA is not secretly reviewing private data sent by Americans domestically. The PCLOB report explains that as part of its financial intelligence gathering on the operations of the Islamic State, CIA employees were able to collect (intentionally or not) significant amounts of data from domestic communications.
And so while this program is separate from what the NSA was doing, it had the same big flaw. While pursuing information on terrorists—what the CIA is supposed to be doing—the agency was also collecting and storing mass amounts of our private data without any warrants or any oversight outside the agency itself.
What sorts of records the CIA has collected has not been declassified, but given the comparisons and the time frame, it’s easy to imagine that these are probably telephone and internet records….The CIA, of course, has an extremely long history of surveilling Americans for political purposes. The Church Committee was established in 1975 to investigate allegations of domestic surveillance by the CIA, FBI, and other federal agencies. Its findings were, in part, what led to the founding of the FISA Court in 1978 to make sure that our privacy rights as Americans weren’t violated by our own government.