Surveillance court blasts NSA in newly-released documents

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Brendan Bordelon Contributor
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A late-night document dump by the Director of National Intelligence revealed yet another harsh rebuke of the National Security Agency (NSA) by a federal judge, who claimed the spy agency “continuously” and “systematically” overcollected data on American citizens.

The release of thousands of previously classified — and heavily redacted — NSA slides and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) opinions late Monday night includes the original, undated court order authorizing the sweeping surveillance of Americans’ email and internet data, known as the Pen Register and Trap and Trace provision.

But of particular interest is another FISC order — again undated — tasked with renewing that provision. The court denied a large part of that reauthorization request, charging that the NSA repeatedly and routinely collected more data on American citizens than the law empowered them to do.

“The government has provided no comprehensive explanation of how so substantial an overcollection occurred,” the court accused. “Given the duration of the problem, the oversight measures ostensibly taken since [date redacted] to detect overcollection, and the extraordinary fact that NSA’s end-to-end review overlooked unauthorized acquisitions that were documented in virtually every record of what was acquired, it must be added that those responsible for conducting oversight at NSA failed to do so effectively.”

Analysts say the documents prove the NSA’s abuse of authority is much broader than initially admitted.

“Notwithstanding repeated public assurances from senior officials, these rulings show a growing pattern of failures by NSA personnel to comply with strict rules for collecting and disseminating data,” said Bradley Moss, a D.C.-based national security lawyer, in a statement to The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Moss worried about “errors” in reporting these violations to the surveillance court. “Even if those errors were inadvertent or accidental,” he wrote, “their consistent recurrence casts doubt upon the ability of the NSA to properly manage its own program in compliance with the strict parameters required by the FISC.”

Like many in Congress, Moss wants to see the creation of a “special advocate” able to sit in on the surveillance court’s NSA hearings, argue for privacy issues and “more clearly identify for the FISC judge the gaps in the Government’s arguments.” U.S. intelligence officials have already warned that the bill which would implement these provisions, the USA Freedom Act, is “flawed.”

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper tried to paint the disclosures as an exercise in government transparency. “Release of these documents reflects the Executive Branch’s continued commitment to making information about this collection program publicly available when appropriate and consistent with the national security of the United States,” he wrote.

But in fact, the director’s hand was forced by a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed in 2011. That lawsuit has already compelled the government to release reams of documents regarding the NSA’s domestic spying on Americans.

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