Director of National Intelligence speaks out to ‘dispel myths’ of government snooping and slams leaks as ‘reckless’ as new details of NSA surveillance are disclosed
- Surveillance programs have ‘proven vital to keeping the nation and our allies safe’ said Director of National Intelligence James R Clapper
- Clapper’s response comes as Guardian reveals new info on intelligence gathering system ‘Boundless Informant’
- Clapper declassified information on how intelligence is gathered, noting Congress ‘authorized’ surveillance activities
- NSA filed criminal report with Justice Dept. in relation to leaks to The Guardian and The Washington Post
By ANNA SANDERS
PUBLISHED: 20:35 EST, 8 June 2013 | UPDATED: 00:24 EST, 9 June 2013
The Director of National Intelligence responded Saturday to the disclosure of classified government surveillance programs, saying these measures kept Americans safe and are ‘authorized by Congress’.
Hoping to ‘dispel some of the myths’ after leaked documents published by The Guardian and The Washington Post shed light on two top-secret government surveillance programs, James R Clapper said in a statement the purpose of the programs is ‘to obtain foreign intelligence information, including information necessary to thwart terrorist and cyber attacks against the United States and its allies’.
This week, The Guardian published a classified document that detailed how a division of Verizon was ordered to give cell phone records to the NSA. The Guardian and The Washington Post also reported that another program, called ‘PRISM’, was used by U.S. intelligence agencies to gain access to the files maintained by top Internet companies like Google, Microsoft and Facebook. In statements, those companies denied providing the government with special access to their files.
Both the phone-records program and PRISM were approved by a judge, but PRISM allowed government agencies to gain access to various Internet conversations, including email.
In his statement, Clapper said PRISM, which was authorized in the Patriot Act, has been in place since 2008.
The Associated Press reported Saturday that earlier this week the NSA filed a criminal report with the Justice Department in relation to the leaks.
Clapper called the disclosures ‘reckless’.
‘In a rush to publish, media outlets have not given the full context–including the extent to which these programs are overseen by all three branches of government–to these effective tools,’ he said. ‘In particular, the surveillance activities published in The Guardian and The Washington Post are lawful and conducted under authorities widely known and discussed, and fully debated and authorized by Congress.’
Clapper’s statement came as a new Guardian report revealed more information on the NSA’s tool for recording and analyzing intelligence.
Documents obtained by the Guardian reveal the government uses a data mining tool, called Boundless Informant, to map information the agency collects. The Guardian reported the agency collected ‘almost 3 billion pieces of intelligence from US computer networks over a 30-day period ending in March 2013’.
‘The tool allows users to select a country on a map and view the metadata volume and select details about the collections against that country,’ according to an NSA fact sheet about the program obtained by The Guardian.
In his statement, Clapper said the agency is limited in discussing their intelligence gathering practices by the NSA’s need to protect their methods and sources.
Informant: The Director of National Intelligence James R Clapper, left, released a statement on PRISM, which is reported to have been used to gather information from the data centers of Internet companies like Facebook, one of which is pictured left
‘Disclosing information about the specific methods the government uses to collect communications can obviously give our enemies a “playbook” of how to avoid detection,’ Clapper said.
Clapper added the recent disclosures have caused ‘significant misimpressions’, adding he could not correct all ‘inaccuracies’ without revealing even more classified information.
In order to ‘dispel some of the myths’, the NSA also released a three-page fact sheet on intelligence collection as outlined by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The fact sheet noted the government ‘does not unilaterally obtain information from the servers of U.S. electronic communication service providers’ but only through court approval with provider’s knowledge.
Congress also authorized the use of PRISM, which the fact sheet called an ‘internal government computer system’ and ‘not an undisclosed collection or data mining program’.
The fact sheet also tried to dispel many Americans’ concerns, noting the government cannot target anyone’s computer or phone records without ‘an appropriate, and documented, foreign intelligence purpose for the acquisition (such as for the prevention of terrorism, hostile cyber activities, or nuclear
proliferation) and the foreign target is reasonably believed to be outside the United States.
The fact sheet detailed how their intelligence gathering was approved or overseen by the three branches of government.
‘Finally, the notion that Section 702 activities are not subject to internal and external oversight is similarly incorrect. Collection of intelligence information under Section 702 is subject to an extensive oversight regime, incorporating reviews by the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches,’ the fact sheet said.
In the fact sheet, Clapper also highlighted how intelligence gathered using these programs has provided ‘insight into terrorist networks and plans’.
‘For example, the intelligence community acquired information on a terrorist organization’s strategic planning efforts,’ he said in the fact sheet. ‘Communications collected under Section 702 have yielded intelligence regarding proliferation networks and have directly and significantly contributed to successful operations to impede the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and related technologies.’
President Barack Obama also noted the importance of the intelligence programs in an event in California Friday.
‘I came in with a healthy skepticism about these programs,’ he said according to multiple reports. ‘My team evaluated them. We scrubbed them thoroughly–we actually expanded some of the oversight, increased some of the safeguards. But my assessment and my team’s assessment was that they help us prevent terrorist attacks. You can’t have 100 per cent security and also then have 100 per cent privacy and zero inconvenience. We’re going have to make some choices as a society.’