The truth is coming out about what may have been the crookedest administration in American History. It was disclosed today that the National Security Agency under former President Obama routinely violated American privacy protections while scouring through overseas intercepts and failed to disclose the extent of the problems until the final days before Donald Trump was elected president last fall. A release of formerly top-secret documents chronicle some of the most serious constitutional abuses to date by the U.S. intelligence community under Obama’s direction.
Documents show more than one out of every 20 searches seeking upstream Internet data on Americans violated the safeguards Obama and his intelligence chiefs swore under oath to follow in 2011. Those documents were verified by a classified internal report reviewed by Circa. The abuses came to light when the Obama administration self-disclosed the problems at a closed-door hearing Oct. 26 before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that set off alarms. Trump was elected less than two weeks later,
The FISC court censured administration officials, saying the failure to disclose the extent of the violations earlier amounted to an “institutional lack of candor” and that the improper searches constituted a “very serious Fourth Amendment issue,” according to a recently unsealed court document dated April 26, 2017. The violations, which the Obama administration admitted to, undercut one of the primary defenses that the intelligence community and Obama officials have used in recent weeks to justify their snooping into incidental NSA intercepts about Americans.
Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice argued their activities were legal under the so-called minimization rule changes Obama made, and that the intelligence agencies were strictly monitored to avoid abuses. In fact, the intelligence court and the NSA’s own internal watchdog found that not to be true.
“Since 2011, NSA’s minimization procedures have prohibited use of U.S.-person identifiers to query the results of upstream Internet collections under Section 702,” the unsealed court ruling declared. “The Oct. 26, 2016 notice informed the court that NSA analysts had been conducting such queries in violation of that prohibition, with much greater frequency than had been previously disclosed to the Court.”
On Wednesday during a Fox News telecast, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said there was an apparent effort under the Obama Administration to increase the number of unmaskings of Americans. “If we determine this to be true, this is an enormous abuse of power,” Paul said. “This will dwarf all other stories.”
The American Civil Liberties Union said the newly disclosed violations are some of the most serious to ever be documented and strongly call into question the U.S. intelligence community’s ability to police itself and safeguard American’s privacy as guaranteed by the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protections against unlawful search and seizure. “I think what this emphasizes is the shocking lack of oversight of these programs,” said Neema Singh Guliani, the ACLU’s legislative counsel in Washington.
The IG report minced no words, saying, “We found that the Agency controls for monitoring query compliance have not been completely developed.” The NSA’s responded to the IG saying it agreed with the findings and that “corrective action plans” are in the works.