An explosive report by The Hill’s John Solomon reveals that the National Security Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation violated the law during the Obama administration for years by improperly collecting intelligence on American citizens and then neglecting to immediately delete this intelligence, obtained by unauthorized spying.
The wide scope of the Obama administration’s civil liberties violations is detailed in several declassified memos obtained by The Hill via a Freedom of Information Act request from the American Civil Liberties Union. The NSA or FBI disclosed these violations to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court or the Justice Department’s national security division during President Obama’s term between 2009 and 2016, according to The Hill.
Put simply, there are several instances when the NSA mishandled the same sort of incidentally collected intelligence on American citizens as that collected on members of the Trump transition team during the 2016 election. And these civil liberties violations followed a 2011 rules change by President Obama that loosened restrictions on intelligence agencies, ostensibly to fight terrorism.
Per the Hill:
Section 702 [of the NSA’s warrantless spying program created by Congress in 2008] empowers the NSA to spy on foreign powers and to retain and use certain intercepted data that was incidentally collected on Americans under strict privacy protections. Wrongly collected information is supposed to be immediately destroyed. The Hill reviewed the new ACLU documents as well as compliance memos released by the NSA inspector general and identified more than 90 incidents where violations specifically cited an impact on Americans. Many incidents involved multiple persons, multiple violations or extended periods of time.
Section 702 [of the NSA’s warrantless spying program created by Congress in 2008] empowers the NSA to spy on foreign powers and to retain and use certain intercepted data that was incidentally collected on Americans under strict privacy protections. Wrongly collected information is supposed to be immediately destroyed.
The Hill reviewed the new ACLU documents as well as compliance memos released by the NSA inspector general and identified more than 90 incidents where violations specifically cited an impact on Americans. Many incidents involved multiple persons, multiple violations or extended periods of time.
One report cited by The Hill describes how an NSA analyst ran the same unauthorized search for an American “every work day” between 2013 and 2014. Improper searches using the NSA’s vast database of collected information are just the beginning of widespread civil liberties abuses.
There also were several instances in which Americans’ unmasked names were improperly shared inside the intelligence community without being redacted, a violation of the so-called minimization procedures that President Obama loosened in 2011 that are supposed to protect an Americans' identity from disclosure when they are intercepted without a warrant. Numerous times improperly unmasked information about Americans had to be recalled and purged after the fact, the memos stated. (Emphasis added)
In 2011, President Obama secretly reversed restrictions on the NSA’s power to use information intercepted from Americans’ emails and phone calls, permitting the agency to search for Americans’ communications in its massive databases. The FISA court that gave Obama the permission to do this also extended the length of time the NSA can retain intercepted information from five to six years, reversing a 2008 ban on this kind of surveillance collection.
Obama expanded the NSA’s power to spy on American citizens. As a result, names of American citizens who were surveilled by the NSA were improperly shared with the intelligence community “without being redacted.” Further, the NSA has not always told the other intelligence agencies that the information it shared was improperly disseminated.
The NSA also admitted it was slow in some cases to notify fellow intelligence agencies when it wrongly disseminated information about Americans. The law requires a notification within five days, but some took as long as 131 business days and the average was 19 days., the memos show.
To be clear, this means that Obama’s NSA spied on American citizens, collected data it should not have had, and then shared that data with an intelligence community that did not know it shouldn’t have it. Private information about American citizens that should have been deleted immediately potentially was widely circulated among government intelligence bureaucrats – members of the so-called “deep state” – who should never have seen that intelligence.
In sum total, these memos reveal the NSA under the Obama administration violated the law numerous times by over-collecting data it wasn’t permitted to receive, by failing to provide documentation justifying the collection of that data, by engaging in “overly broad” searches for information, and failing to destroy improperly collected data as required by law.
Now put this into context with evidence that the members of the Trump transition team were surveilled and that data on Trump officials was incidentally collected by American intelligence agencies. Given the widespread violations of civil liberties protections detailed by these memos obtained by the Hill, is it not reasonable to ask to what extent were Trump officials subject to the same kind of abuses? What data was collected on Trump officials? Was it immediately deleted or was it shared within the intelligence community? If it was shared, with whom? Potential leakers?
Clearly a congressional investigation into the Obama administration’s spying, as demanded by Conservative Review Editor-in-Chief Mark Levin, is warranted now more than ever.
Chris Pandolfo is a staff writer and type-shouter for Conservative Review. He holds a B.A. in politics and economics from Hillsdale College. His interests are conservative political philosophy, the American founding, and progressive rock. Follow him on Twitter for doom-saying and great album recommendations @ChrisCPandolfo.
He is the Special Impeachment Counsel.