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US senators allege CIA illegally collected US citizens’ data

US Senators Ron Wyden and Martin Heinrich, both members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, have called for transparency about the CIA’s bulk surveillance after newly released documents showed that the agency ran a secret bulk collection program. The documents also highlighted several problems with how the CIA searches for and handles American’ information.

On Thursday, the senator announced that they had sent a co-signed letter in April 2021 to the Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and CIA director William Burn seeking quicker declassification of a review of two CIA programs — Deep Dive I and Deep Dive II. The review was conducted by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB).

The Deep Dives programs were authorised under Executive Order No. 12333 instead of laws passed by Congress. According to the Senators, the documents “reveal serious problems associated with warrantless backdoor searches of Americans”. 

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CIA in hot water?

February 10 saw the release of several documents that the Senators wanted, including a heavily-redacted PCLOB report focussing on the CIA’s collection of financial information during counterterrorism activities aimed at ISIS. According to the document, this included an incidental collection of data describing US citizens. 

This means a clear admission that USPs’ data was collected, which isn’t the explicit purpose of Executive Order 12333. The PCLOB document also notes a set of recommendations, including presenting them with a pop-up reminding officer that they’re bound to not look at a US citizen’s data unless it can be justified on the grounds of representing foreign intelligence.

However, the document also goes on to note that CIA staff doesn’t have to record its justification for accessing this data, further implying that CIA staff may not have a valid justification more often than not. 

Since there’s no oversight mechanism for Executive Order 12333, it gets minimal scrutiny. The senators add that this failure to justify officers’ access to data describing USPs is rather serious. The attention is warranted as well. The FBI has been accused of failing to observe FISA requirements for years at once, while the  FISC hasn’t had to reveal its justifications for allowing access to US citizens’ data. 

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