In a lengthy and fiercely-defensive statement, the U.S. intelligence chief fired back Saturday at what he called “reckless disclosures” by the media this past week of measures taken by the National Security Agency “to keep Americans safe.”
James R. Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, said the U.S. does not “unilaterally obtain information from the servers” of the biggest Internet companies, as first reported by the Washington Post.
The Post report said that emails, downloads and website visits are monitored. The U.K.’s The Guardian newspaper also broke a story on cellphone data surveillance by the NSA.
Clapper also asserted that no U.S citizen can be targeted under under federal law and court-approved procedures.
Moreover, he said no one can be targeted “unless there is an appropriate, and documented, foreign intelligence purpose for the acquisition (such as for the prevention of terrorism, hostile cyber activities, or nuclear proliferation) and the foreign target is reasonably believed to be outside the United States.”
The surveillance are legal and are overseen by all three branches of government, he said.
“In particular, the surveillance activities published in The Guardian and The Washington Post are lawful and conducted under authorities widely known and discussed, and fully debated and authorized by Congress,” Clapper said. “Their purpose is to obtain foreign intelligence information, including information necessary to thwart terrorist and cyber attacks against the United States and its allies.”
Here are the key highlights of Clapper’s response to the recent reports:
- PRISM (the program which monitors Internet activity) is not an undisclosed collection or data mining program. It is an internal government computer system used to facilitate the government’s statutorily-0authorized collection of foreign intelligence information from Internet service providers under court supervision, as authorized by Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). This authority was created by Congress and has been widely known and publicly discussed since its inception in 2008.
- Under Section 702 of FISA, the United States Government does not unilaterally obtain information from the servers of Internet service providers. All such information is obtained with FISA Court approval and with the knowledge of the provider based upon a written directive from the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence. In short, Section 702 facilitates the targeted acquisition of foreign intelligence information concerning foreign targets located outside the United States under court oversight.
- The Government cannot target anyone under the court-approved procedures for Section 702 collection, unless there is an appropriate, and documented, foreign intelligence purpose for the acquisition (such as for the prevention of terrorism, hostile cyber activities, or nuclear proliferation) and the foreign target is reasonably believed to be outside the United States. We cannot target even foreign persons overseas without a valid foreign intelligence purpose.
- In addition, Section 702 cannot be used to intentionally target any U.S. citizen, or any other U.S. person, or to intentionally target any person known to be in the United States. Likewise, Section 702 cannot be used to target a person outside the United States if the purpose is to acquire information from a person inside the United States.
- The notion that Section 702 activities are not subject to internal and external oversight is similarly incorrect. Collection of intelligence information under Section 702 is subject to an extensive oversight regime, incorporating reviews by the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches.