Two Democrats on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence say the National Security Agency provided “inaccurate” and “misleading” information to the American public about the government’s vast surveillance operations.
Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall sent a letter to NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander on Monday asking him to make revisions to a set of fact sheets that were released by his agency to quell concerns about domestic surveillance in the wake of leaked documents attributed to former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden earlier this month.
The Guardian newspaper has been publishing top-secret documents provided by Snowden that he says proves the NSA operates secretive spying programs that retain information on United States citizens under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. Snowden claims those two statutes are abused in order to surveil American citizens, an argument Gen. Alexander’s office recently attempted to counter by releasing a four-page set of bullet points outlining what the US government can and can’t do under federal law.
According to Sens. Wyden and Udall, the NSA’s response isn’t in-tune with what they’ve been told of the programs. “We were disappointed to see that this fact sheet contains an inaccurate statement about how the Section 702 authority has been interpreted by the US government,” they write Gen. Alexander. “In our judgment this inaccuracy is significant, as it portrays protections for Americans’ privacy as being significantly stronger than they actually are.”
But while the fact sheets have been made available online, Wyden and Udall can’t explain in their public letter what their allegations are in reference to since the lawmakers’ own knowledge of the clandestine operations are not allowed to be discussed, even among the constituents who elected them to the Senate. Instead, they wrote that they’ve “identified this inaccurate statement in the classified attachment” sent to Alexander.
Elsewhere, the lawmakers rejected the NSA’s claim that, “Any inadvertently acquired communication of or concerning a US person must be promptly destroyed if it is neither relevant to the authorized purpose nor evidence of a crime.”
“We believe that this statement is somewhat misleading,” replied the senators, “in that it implies that the NSA has the ability to determine how many American communications it has collected under Section 702, or that the law does not allow the NSA to deliberately search for the records of particular Americans. In fact, the intelligence community has told us repeatedly that it is ‘not reasonably possible to identify the number of people located in the United States whose communications may have been reviewed under the authority’ of the FISA Amendments Act.”