The Wall Street Journal reporters Siobhan Gorman and Devlin Barrett produced a helpful article today titled “Documents Shed New Light on NSA Data Gathering” that is the inspiration for this report.
There is much debate and concern in Congress and among citizens about the NSA civilian phone record surveillance activity, and it is appropriate that it come under scrutiny. It should not take whistleblowers to ignite congressional oversight into such delicate matters, but apparently it did.
That is why WikiLeaks, The Guardian, Manning, and Snowden are all in the news.
Welcome the Wall Street Journal to highlight a few things:
1. The checks and balances in the program apparently worked well as intended. (That means that leakers grabbed headlines to their own peril without identifying a real problem.
2. Justice oversight identified the need to tighten up compliance in procedures and the NSA responded appropriately.
3. NSA gave up on using the program because the effort wasn’t worth the trouble.
That doesn’t mean that they won’t use metadata search if they need to.
“The documents, in part, bolstered the Obama administration’s argument that there are a series of internal and external checks to ensure that the programs, designed to collect vast amounts of Americans’ data, are not misused.
However, a Justice Department document dated Feb. 2, 2011, which summarizes the two programs, devotes nearly a full page to “compliance issues” with both programs.
That summary provides additional details that help explain Mr. Clapper’s acknowledgment in a letter to Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) on Friday that the phone-records program had run into “a number of compliance problems.”
The 2011 document states that both the phone and Internet metadata programs had “a number of technical compliance problems and human implementation errors” in 2009. Those problems were discovered by Justice and NSA internal reviews. Significant portions of the document were redacted and the details of the compliance problems were not included.
But once discovered, the problems were reported to the secret national-security court, which placed restrictions on the collection of the records until the problems were resolved to the court’s satisfaction, the 2011 summary says.
The court imposed additional safeguards that were not specified in the 2011 summary. Sen. Wyden said in a speech on the Senate floor Monday that the problems were “more serious” than intelligence agency officials have suggested, but has not provided details.”