NSA ‘secret backdoor’ paved way to U.S. phone, e-mail snooping
| Declan McCullagh
Revelations in new document leaked by Edward Snowden appear to be at odds with privacy assurances from President Obama and other officials.
The National Security Agency created a “secret backdoor” so its massive databases could be searched for the contents of U.S. citizens’ confidential phone calls and e-mail messages without a warrant, according to the latest classified documents leaked by Edward Snowden.
A report in the Guardian on Friday quoted Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee, as saying the secret rule offers a loophole allowing “warrantless searches for the phone calls or emails of law-abiding Americans.”
That appears to confirm what Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, said in June after receiving a classified briefing from administration officials a few days earlier on the extent of the NSA’s domestic surveillance operations.
If the NSA wants “to listen to the phone,” an analyst’s decision is sufficient, without any other legal authorization required, Nadler said he had been told during the briefing. “I was rather startled,” said Nadler, an attorney who serves on the House Judiciary Committee.
FBI Director Robert Mueller responded by assuring Nadler, according to a transcriptof the hearing, that to “listen to the phone,” the government would need “a particularized order” from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — a claim that is contradicted by today’s Guardian report and other documents. Mueller has been succeeded by James Comey, who was confirmed last month by the Senate.
In response to a CNET article at the time, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper released a statement saying: “The statement that a single analyst can eavesdrop on domestic communications without proper legal authorization is incorrect and was not briefed to Congress.”