By Peter McLaren-Kennedy • 12 February 2022 • 8:02
Concerns have been raised by two US Senators who believe that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is spying on Americans, carrying out unwarranted surveillance on unwitting people.
The accusation is made Senators Ron Wyden and Martin Heinrich in a letter to intelligence officials, the two Democrats called for declassifying details of the clandestine programme.
Government data collection has been the subject of much controversy in the US although domestic spying is prohibited by the CIA’s 1947 charter, officially the organisation and National Security Agency (NSA) have a foreign surveillance mission.
But in 2013, a programme of data collection using extensive internet and phone surveillance by American intelligence was disclosed to the public by Edward Snowden, a CIA contractor-turned whistle-blower.
An analysis by the Washington Post analysis of the Snowden leak found some 90% of those being monitored were ordinary Americans “caught in a net the National Security Agency had cast for somebody else”.
Top officials had until then denied, and even lied under oath to Congress, that they were knowingly collecting such data in a programme, known as Prism. The programme was later ruled unlawful by a US court.
But a government watchdog last year disclosed two CIA data collection efforts that Senators Wyden and Heinrich now claim are likely to be again subjecting Americans to warrantless searches.
In response the CIA released a declassified report on one of the programmes on Thursday, but declined to declassify the other, citing the need to protect “sensitive tradecraft methods and operational sources.”
But Mr Wyden, of Oregon, and Mr Heinrich, of New Mexico, said by failing to do so the agency was “undermining democratic oversight and posing risks to the long-term credibility of the Intelligence Community.”
Both senators are members of the Intelligence committee, and they believe the public deserve to know “the nature and full extent” of the surveillance, which is all but certain to include records on Americans.
They said: “The still-classified programme operates under the authority of a Reagan-era executive order and is therefore entirely outside the statutory framework that Congress and the public believe govern this collection,”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) non-profit said: “These reports raise serious questions about what information of ours the CIA is vacuuming up in bulk and how the agency exploits that information to spy on Americans.”
A CIA spokesperson told the BBC: “In the course of any lawful collection, CIA may incidentally acquire information about Americans who are in contact with foreign nationals.
“When CIA acquires information about Americans, it safeguards that information in accordance with procedures.”
The news the CIS is spying domestically will not go down well with Americans whose paranoia has increased since Donald Trump’s term in office, with an increasing number of conspiracy theories doing the rounds.
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Originally from South Africa, Peter is based on the Costa Blanca and is a web reporter for the Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news.
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