Spy chief says Internet surveillance aimed at foreigners

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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The federal government’s Internet-surveillance efforts produce some of “the most important and valuable foreign intelligence information we collect, and is used to protect our nation from a wide variety of threats,” according to the nation’s top intelligence official.

Officials say the National Security Agency’s PRISM project works through top-ranked Internet companies to look for data about overseas jihadi planning and funding, and other intelligence about foreign targets, while ignoring Americans.

The program was exposed by a government official who leaked documents to the Guardian and the Washington Post for publication on June 6.

The once-secret program was authorized by Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, according to a late-night statement from Gen. James Clapper, a former U.S. Air Force officer who is now the Director of National Intelligence.

The law is “designed to facilitate the acquisition of foreign intelligence information concerning non-U.S. persons located outside the United States, said his statement. Clapper, an Obama appointee, did not detail any of the program’s alleged success.

The PRISM program is overseen by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the executive branch, and Congress “to ensure that only non-U.S. persons outside the U.S. are targeted, and [to] minimize the acquisition, retention and dissemination of incidentally acquired information about U.S. persons,” Clapper said.

“The unauthorized disclosure of information about this important and entirely legal program is reprehensible and risks important protections for the security of Americans,” said the statement.

The existence and the exposure of the program is likely to prompt much controversy in Washington, where progressives, libertarians and social conservatives often declare suspicion about government surveillance.

However, all three groups are divided over who they trust to oversee anti-jihad and auto-criminal programs. President Barack Obama is trusted by most progressives, but by very few libertarians or conservatives.

Public distrust of the president, and of government, has recently declined, partly because of recent revelations that officials in the IRS’ Washington D.C. office pushed employees to harass and frustrate tea Party and pro-life groups.

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