The federal government has released hundreds of pages of documents, including orders and opinions from the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, related to the NSA’s surveillance programs, but legislators who have been involved in the process say that there still are significant details of the agency’s email and phone collection activities that remain secret.
Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.), who have been outspoken critics of the NSA and warned about the secret collection programs before this summer’s public revelations, said that despite the release of new documents in response to a lawsuit by the EFF, much of the most important information remains classified.
“With the documents declassified and released this afternoon by the Director of National Intelligence, the public now has new information about the size and shape of that iceberg. Additional information about these violations was contained in other recently-released court opinions, though some significant information – particularly about violations pertaining to the bulk email records collection program – remains classified,” the senators said in a statement.
On Tuesday, the Director of National Intelligence declassified and released hundreds of pages of documents as the result of a lawsuit brought by the EFF and the ACLU. The bulk of the cache comprises FISC opinions and orders, but there also are documents related to so-called “compliance incidents”, which are instances in which the NSA notifies the court and legislators about possible violations of rules regarding intelligence collection. The EFF has posted searchable versions of all of the documents.
One of the interesting findings in the released documents is the fact that no one at the NSA had a full understanding of how exactly its collection programs worked.
“Incredibly, intelligence officials said today that no one at the NSA fully understood how its own surveillance system worked at the time so they could not adequately explain it to the court. This is a breathtaking admission: the NSA’s surveillance apparatus, for years, was so complex and compartmentalized that no single person could comprehend it,” Trevor Timm of the EFF said.
“The intelligence officials also acknowledged that the court has to base its decisions on the information the NSA gives it, which has never been a good basis for the checks and balances that is a hallmark of American democracy.”
Wyden and Udall said that the documents released Tuesday were just a small piece of a much larger puzzle.
“We have said before that we have seen no evidence that the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records has provided any intelligence that couldn’t be gathered through less intrusive means and that bulk collection should be ended. These documents provide further evidence that bulk collection is not only a significant threat to the constitutional liberties of Americans, but that it is a needless one,” they said.