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CIA Secretly Collected ‘Bulk’ Data on American Citizens, Senators Say

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 2/11/2022 Justin Sink and John Harney
The seal of the Central Intelligence Agency is displayed in the foyer of the original headquarters building in Langley, Virginia, U.S. © Bloomberg The seal of the Central Intelligence Agency is displayed in the foyer of the original headquarters building in Langley, Virginia, U.S.

(Bloomberg) -- Two U.S. senators said the Central Intelligence Agency has been secretly collecting “bulk” information on American citizens without congressional oversight. 

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The senators, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, expressed alarm in an April 13 letter to Avril Haines, the director of National Intelligence and William Burns, the director of the CIA. 

The agency said the programs involved “counterterrorism intelligence-related activities” that operated under Executive Order 12333. It also announced that portions of reports on the programs were being declassified, according to a statement on Thursday. 

The senators, members of the Intelligence Committee, say that the agency “has conducted its own bulk program” and “has done so outside the statutory framework that Congress and the public believe govern this collection.” The letter, which was heavily redacted, did not indicate how long, exactly, the surveillance had unfolded, how widespread it had been, or what sort of information was collected and from whom. 

Wyden and Heinrich, who had asked about the amount of data collected and the circumstances of its storage and dissemination, said the program or programs didn’t have the oversight safeguards of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, which governs tracking of people suspected of being involved in terrorism or espionage.  

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Until a report was delivered last March, the senators said the “the nature and full extent of the CIA’s collection was withheld even from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday night.  

In the two-page statement on Thursday, the CIA said it keeps the Intelligence panel up to speed on its programs and “all CIA officers have a solemn obligation to protect the privacy and civil liberties of Americans.” Declassified reviews covered the years 2015 to 2021, the agency added. 

“CIA recognizes and takes very seriously our obligation to respect the privacy and civil liberties of US persons in the conduct of our vital national security mission, and conducts our activities, including collection activities, in compliance with U.S. law, Executive Order 12333, and our Attorney General guidelines,” Kristi Scott, CIA’s privacy and civil liberties officer, said in an e-mailed statement. “CIA is committed to transparency consistent with our obligation to protect intelligence sources and methods.”

Sean Vitka, senior policy council of the advocacy group Demand Progress, said in a statement that “despite years of congressional and public outcry against warrantless mass surveillance of people in the United States, the CIA has been hiding bulk spying programs, infringing on the rights of literally every American, and completely evading the the oversight of Congress and the courts.”      

(Adds CIA statement in ninth paragraph)

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