Obama Administration Declassifies Phone Records Seizures, Condemns Leaks

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John Minchilo / AP

Following more than 24 hours of unrelenting scrutiny and criticism, the Obama administration moved late Thursday to declassify information on the Federal Bureau Investigation and National Security Agency blanket seizures of American phone records.

For years, the administration confirmed, the law enforcement and signals intelligence agencies have gained access to telephony “metadata,” phone phone records which detail phone numbers, devices identifiers, and call locations.

In a statement, James R. Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, said he felt it was “important to address the misleading impression” left by an article published by the Guardian Wednesday, which for the first time revealed a court order requiring the seizure of Verizon phone records for another 90 days under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

(MORE: 7 Things to Know About the Government’s Secret Database of Telephone Data)

“In order to provide a more thorough understanding of the program, I have directed that certain information related to the “business records” provision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act be declassified and immediately released to the public,” Clapper said in a statement.

Clapper released the following explanation of the surveillance program:

  • The judicial order that was disclosed in the press is used to support a sensitive intelligence collection operation, on which members of Congress have been fully and repeatedly briefed. The classified program has been authorized by all three branches of the Government.
  • Although this program has been properly classified, the leak of one order, without any context, has created a misleading impression of how it operates. Accordingly, we have determined to declassify certain limited information about this program.
  • The program does not allow the Government to listen in on anyone’s phone calls. The information acquired does not include the content of any communications or the identity of any subscriber. The only type of information acquired under the Court’s order is telephony metadata, such as telephone numbers dialed and length of calls.
  • The collection is broad in scope because more narrow collection would limit our ability to screen for and identify terrorism -related communications. Acquiring this information allows us to make connections related to terrorist activities over time. The FISA Court specifically approved this method of collection as lawful, subject to stringent restrictions.
  • The information acquired has been part of an overall strategy to protect the nation from terrorist threats to the United States, as it may assist counterterrorism personnel to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities.
  • There is a robust legal regime in place governing all activities conducted pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which ensures that those activities comply with the Constitution and laws and appropriately protect privacy and civil liberties. The program at issue here is conducted under authority granted by Congress and is authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). By statute, the Court is empowered to determine the legality of the program.
  • By order of the FISC, the Government is prohibited from indiscriminately sifting through the telephony metadata acquired under the program. All information that is acquired under this program is subject to strict, court-imposed restrictions on review and handling. The court only allows the data to be queried when there is a reasonable suspicion, based on specific facts, that the particular basis for the query is associated with a foreign terrorist organization. Only specially cleared counterterrorism personnel specifically trained in the Court-approved procedures may even access the records.
  • All information that is acquired under this order is subject to strict restrictions on handling and is overseen by the Department of Justice and the FISA Court. Only a very small fraction of the records are ever reviewed because the vast majority of the data is not responsive to any terrorism-related query.
  • The Court reviews the program approximately every 90 days. DOJ conducts rigorous oversight of the handling of the data received to ensure the applicable restrictions are followed. In addition, DOJ and ODNI regularly review the program implementation to ensure it continues to comply with the law.
  • The Patriot Act was signed into law in October 2001 and included authority to compel production of business records and other tangible things relevant to an authorized national security investigation with the approval of the FISC. This provision has subsequently been reauthorized over the course of two Administrations – in 2006 and in 2011. It has been an important investigative tool that has been used over the course of two Administrations, with the authorization and oversight of the FISC and the Congress.

In his statement, Clapper also criticized the release of information on the classified program, saying it will lead to the nation’s enemies changing their methods “and make it more difficult for us to understand their intentions.”

In a separate statement, Clapper defended a separate U.S. government effort to collect private communication from major techonology companies under a still-classified program known as Prism, as reported by the Washington Post Thursday.

“Information collected under this program is among the most important and valuable foreign intelligence information we collect, and is used to protect our nation from a wide variety of threats,” he said. “The unauthorized disclosure of information about this important and entirely legal program is reprehensible and risks important protections for the security of Americans.”

MORE: The NSA Snooping Scoop: Behind the Guardian‘s Risky Plans for Global Expansion

115 comments
OldFashionedLiberal
OldFashionedLiberal

Better to be a leaker than a phony liberal like Mr. Obama!

We have met the enemy and it is US!

valentine.godoflove
valentine.godoflove

 OBAMA ACTS LIKE A TYRANT........WHERE ARE THE WHITE SUPREMACISTS WHEN YOU NEED THEM?....LOL.....

valentine, comedian.....lol.....

 

ahandout
ahandout

Nobody is listening to your telephone calls...and the IRS is not targeting you...the government is not recording cell calls, the DOJ is not spying on reporters, the government is not collecting private data from facebook and your emails. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9idlHwGPqK8

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

The really disturbing part is that every member of congress knew about the program and said nothing until it was leaked out. Yes even that great Libertarian Icon Rand Paul.


pissingourlifeaway
pissingourlifeaway

Heart disease and cancer kill over 1 million american a year, how many lives are saved from terrorism by stripping us of our privacy? How can we relocate theses resources toward the real killers: MCD, MON, PEP, KRFT, MO, PM just to name a few. Maybe once they're not part of the S&P 500.

GaryRMcCray
GaryRMcCray

So much effort is put into protecting our safety - - and the only thing it costs us is our freedom.

Bad Trade!

RaymondMorgan
RaymondMorgan

My fellow Americans by now you surely must account for the fact that we are in serious trouble.  If you cannot see that as a human being you are blind. The NSA has a massive facility in Utah that serves no purpose other than to collect everything that's out there on the internet.  They have programs that actively scan your social media , emails, texts.  They listen to your calls despite what they say ,they do have a program to pick out words in telephone conversations.  A plan has been put forward to have 300,000 drones in the U.S. airspace by 2017.  Right now the Government wants to be able to look thru your home with electronic devices and thermal imagery without a warrant. Think they will do it?  I bet they already are now. The only oversight is elected officials who are not themselves subject to oversight. We are supposed to trust them ,that they are looking out for our best interests.  Folks even Joseph McCarthy would be freaked out right now.  We as a people need to take our power and privacy back. We need term limits for everyone.  We need more civilian oversight . 

I support our intelligence apparatus and our military counterparts but not at the expense of the constitution  and the violation of every tenant. Call or write your congressman let them know we are pissed off and we want it stopped now.  Hold the media to the fire as well why is it everytime there's a white house scandal in this administration it is broken by foreign media. The four major news carriers have alot to answer for.

ApostasyUSA
ApostasyUSA

I don't know why this is a surprise to anybody.  I have pretty much assumed that phone companies were giving up data to the government since we heard way back in Bush Jrs days that FISA was being circumvented.  Didn't the Supreme Court rule that the government had to start going back to FISA for authorisation during the Bush days?  Since then nothing more came of it.  Now we are asking why this was being done?

This is one of those rare moments where almost all of our government can turn back to the people and say, “uh duh!”  The NSA will use FISA to collect information important to national security because they can, but also, doing so is their job.  It’s what Americans have tasked them to do.  

I'm glad someone leaked this document. It reminds me that there are thousands of people who will never be named, who are maybe only memorialized by a star on a wall.  Those who everyday stand in defiance of enemies anonymous to most of us.  We should be reminded every once in awhile that there are secret protectors sworn to defend our Democracy. Not to challenge their intentions, but to honor their pledge.

DonDodondo
DonDodondo

If the government is not held accountable for this injustice things are going to get much, much worse.  With these leaks this Administration is basically openly announcing that they are going to be spying on us no matter how we feel about it and they have no intention of changing the practice.  This is unacceptable.  If we allow this to continue it is only a matter of time before they start loading people into boxcars because of their political opinions.  Today it might only be conservative groups getting audited by the IRS, but tomorrow it could easily be YOU who becomes an enemy of the state and who has the FBI knocking on YOUR door in the middle of the night because you are a member of MoveOn.org or something like that.  It is time to put party politics aside and stop defending this administration, someone MUST be held accountable for this, that someone should be the commander-in-chief.

F_Coker
F_Coker

I don't blame Obama for being upset about leaks.  Our government (of the people) should be able to operate in the shadows without any transparency or accountability.  Secret courts are absolutely essential to our liberties. After all, look how well all this spying did to thwart the Boston bombings. Who knows how many other threats were stopped... oh, that's right... nobody. And, we just have to accept their word. Amazing what people are willing to give up in the name of "National Security."  

realconfused
realconfused

Did I miss something?? You mean that the government which Works FOR the People thinks it is ok to spy on the People?  And they think I'm confused-They're right 

nemo
nemo

No longer the land of the free and home of the brave.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@ahandout Poor Handy. He is following in the foot steps of you heroes and your own party is bending over backwards to defend him.

UrnsSo
UrnsSo

@pissingourlifeaway I agree we have much worse problems that face our nation.  However, fear can drive the economy over a cliff and the federal government job is to promote trade. When did personal responsibility die?  Why can't consumers be responsible  for good health choices.  Sure, they should be required to disclose if their products can cause cancer but no one forces people to by cigarettes and Twinkies.  When people make good health choices and stop buying Twinkies, Hostess goes bankrupt. 

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@GaryRMcCray So where you outraged when the Patriot Act was being rushed through Congress by Cheney and his minions?

tommyudo
tommyudo

@RaymondMorgan


Term limits???? So after a certain amount of years another stooge bought and paid for by big money can occupy a chair in the Capitol Building as the departing pol finds a nice cushy job with their corporate benefactor. Setting a brand new paradigm by prohibiting big money from buying elections might be a small start towards sanity in governing.  Corporations aren’t people, so they shouldn’t have the individual rights we have. Hey pal, the horse is already out of the barn. DC and every state legislature is bought and paid for.

We are spied upon not because the fed govt has made that decision unilaterally. Those who own this country, and it isn’t you and I, need the spying to continue to control what we say and do.  In the meantime, more benignly, big business can track your buying habits to garner potential customers. This isn’t a Left/Right or  GOP/Dem issue at all. As long as they can finger the “malcontents” they will know who to go after when there is any type of civil disorder where the peasants get out of line. We have had a National Security State since at least the end of WWII. Where have you been?

JoeBlowZCUI
JoeBlowZCUI

@ApostasyUSA It has, but the story broke just now. It's dangerous to imply that simply because it isn't new it isn't important. I think this is the biggest story of the year.

TyPollard
TyPollard

@DonDodondo 

It is what the left has been saying since the Patriot Act was enacted. 

Accountability can only come from repealing the laws that have enabled this practice. The genie has been out of the bottle for a very long time.

StephanThomasStaceyJr.
StephanThomasStaceyJr.

And people like you will also continue to "monday morning quarterback" everything that happens and be the first to blame the president/government fior not preventing things when something does happen.

ApostasyUSA
ApostasyUSA


Uh.... there is no “whistle blower”. The media has known this has been is going on for a while now.  

DonDodondo
DonDodondo

@TyPollard @DonDodondo It doesn't matter who started it, and it wasn't only "the left" that were critical of the Patriot Act either (ever heard of a guy named Ron Paul?).  The point is that now the government is openly admitting they are doing it and if WE do not put a stop to it now and demand change it is only going to get much , much worse.

DonDodondo
DonDodondo

@StephanThomasStaceyJr. So you are saying we had better be happy they are spying on us because it is "for our own good"?  Look, you may be comfortable bending over for Big Brother on command, but most rational people understand that a totalitarian state that spies on its own people is vastly more dangerous than any terrorist with a pipe bomb.

UrnsSo
UrnsSo

@StephanThomasStaceyJr. You couldn't be more wrong.  We are free to much as we please in the USA.  Try visiting a country like China where you aren't even free visit internet sites because the government has blocked the access.  Worse, the people are not free to voice their discontent with the government for fear of imprisonment. 

ahandout
ahandout

@ApostasyUSA "The media" doesn't tell Americans the truth.  That's part of the scandal.

TyPollard
TyPollard

@DonDodondo @TyPollard 

I give credit to Ron Paul for opposing the PA as you should for left opposing the PA. The Republican Party and enough Democrats supported it and they were wrong. I should also say that our media was in a patriotic furor and cheer leadedI't passage. It does not change the fact that these excesses are legal until they are not -either by legislation or SCOTUS ruling.

StephanThomasStaceyJr.
StephanThomasStaceyJr.

You arent being searched nor anything taken from you.  They arent even listening to the actual calls only looking at who called who, when and for how long.

Whats the problem again?

Oh right:  the preacher doesnt want anyone knowing how many sex lines he calls and the politicians dont want their wives seing all the escort service numbers in his history.

This has little to do with 4th ammendment per se, and more to do with people in power wanting their personal indiscretions to remain hidden...

DonDodondo
DonDodondo

@StephanThomasStaceyJr. It doesn't matter, the 4th Amendment protects us from "unlawful search and seizure".  The government cannot indiscriminitely spy on all Americans just because there is may be a tiny fraction of a fraction who are terrorists.

StephanThomasStaceyJr.
StephanThomasStaceyJr.

Bad things ARE happening.  Some of the people ARE the enemy.  Those letters laced with poison  and filled with anti-government deaththreats a while back sent to the president and elected officials werent postmarked from Afghanistan.  They originated here...

America like all places has its share of violent extremists. 

UrnsSo
UrnsSo

@StephanThomasStaceyJr. "Just because your paranoid doesn't mean they are not after you".

Are you maintaining a survey of the critics of security and their political positions?

Al Gore doesn't like this and I doubt he or most people will blame the POTUS for a terrorist attack.  Not many blamed Bush for 9/11 and fewer blamed Clinton for OKC.

I don't recall much blame/credit being sent in the POTUS' direction for the shoe bomber, underwear bomber, or Fort Hood.

This would be less of an issue if we didn't know that the IRS targets people for their political opinions.   

thewholetruth
thewholetruth

@StephanThomasStaceyJr.   After 9/11 most of the World was behind the USA, it just seems now that many people doubt the whole  9/11 story. Too many holes in the story. 


DonDodondo
DonDodondo

@StephanThomasStaceyJr. So your argument is that anyone who is uncomfortable with the government ignoring the bill of rights and spying on innocent American citizens is "crazy"?  How craven can you be?  Read some history, once the government starts viewing its own people as the enemy bad things are going to happen, In just the last 100 years this has happened in Russia (Stalin), Spain (Franco), Cambodia (Pol Pot), China (Mao), Germnay (Hitler), the list goes on and on.

StephanThomasStaceyJr.
StephanThomasStaceyJr.

Your tinfoil hat statement is well rehearsed:  just the right mix of paranoia and forced bravado

I simply pointed out that the same people that are crying that the sky is falling are the same people that will be looking to burn Obama at the stake if another high profile attack happens...

Hypocricy is a delicious and intoxicating fruit...



UrnsSo
UrnsSo

@tommyudo @UrnsSo @StephanThomasStaceyJr. That is my point, we don't need to know all the details of every plot.  Nevertheless, this requires trust in our leaders which seems to be quickly eroding with recent administrations.  At some point we need transparency and accountability. 

tommyudo
tommyudo

@UrnsSo @tommyudo @StephanThomasStaceyJr. 

Those who know don't tell and those who tell don't know. 

In our lifetime we will never know the whole story of the assassinations in the 1960s or the full story on 911. Old man Bush was in the CIA and Cheney was Sec. of  Defense. Do you think that it was a coincidence that they were doing hand holding with Reagan and Junior for a total of 16 years? Both of these guys know a good deal and they are taking it to their graves.

tommyudo
tommyudo

@StephanThomasStaceyJr. 


Couldn't agree with you more. The populace are like a bunch of children , many of whom really believe this Pledge of Allegiance BS. Our "freedom" is limited to the extent that those that control this country want to cut us some slack. The spying is all part and parcel of the type of security state that combines military and business interests. It's the military-industrial comples that Eisenhower warned us about when he had one foot out of the WH. Since 1961, new technology has just given them even more control over our lives.

UrnsSo
UrnsSo

@StephanThomasStaceyJr. The public need not know all the details of every assassination plan but the government should not be allowed to hide behind national security whenever they don't want to be held accountable.  For example, the followed AP reporters simply for a breaking a story before them.  Then claimed it was one of the most critical leaks of the administration yet the AG and the POTUS were not aware of it until the media released the story. 

StephanThomasStaceyJr.
StephanThomasStaceyJr.

Indeed many other countries are far  less subtle in hiding the manipulation of their populaces, but you and I are controlled and kept in check in many unspoken and not easy recognizable ways.  The best way to keep the sheep quiet is to give them that illusion...