New Report Highlights an Old Problem—the CIA Is Still Snooping on Americans

Sen. Ron Wyden (D–Ore.), whose oversight of domestic surveillance ultimately led to Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing, is alerting citizens that the CIA has been engaged in bulk collection of our private records, much like the National Security Agency (NSA).

Wyden and Sen. Martin Heinrich, (D–N.M.Both members of Senate Intelligence Committee Wyden and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) requested declassification from the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. On Thursday, the heavily redacted report was made public. It revealed that the CIA collected bulk data without the oversight of Congress or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court (FISA).

Snowden in 2013 exposed the NSA surveillance program. This whole program is totally separate. Then, 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. The FISA Court granted blanket permission, which it requested and received. After Snowden’s whistleblowing in 2015, Congress adopted the USA Freedom Act. This banned government agencies from bulk collecting data and established stricter access rules.

Executive Order 12333 governs CIA surveillance. It was issued first in 1981 and does not fall under the jurisdiction of the FISA Court. There are however precautions that can be taken to prevent the CIA from secretly reviewing any private data received by Americans. PCLOB reports that CIA staff were able, intentionally or otherwise, to obtain significant amounts of information from domestic communications as part its financial intelligence gathering about the Islamic State’s operations.

Although this program was separate to what the NSA was doing it still had the big problem. While pursuing information on terrorists—what the CIA is supposed to be doing—the agency was also collecting and storing mass amounts of OurPrivate data are not subject to warrants and do not have any supervision outside of the agency.

Although the CIA is not revealing the exact nature of the records it has collected, the data and timeframe suggest that they are likely to be internet and telephone records. Heinrich and Wyden have asked the CIA to give details of the records that were collected as well as the legal context used to support the collection.

Wyden, Heinrich and a joint statement noted that “these documents show that many of Americans’ privacy concerns and civil liberties also concern how the CIA gathers and handles information outside the FISA laws.” These documents highlight serious issues associated with warrantless backdoor search of Americans. This is the exact issue that has prompted bipartisan concern within the FISA context.

The CIA has a long history of monitoring Americans for political reasons. To investigate claims of domestic surveillance by the CIA or FBI and other federal agencies, the Church Committee was created in 1975. These findings are part of what lead to the creation in 1978 of the FISA Court to protect our privacy rights.