CIA secretly collected ‘bulk’ data on American citizens: Senators

Published : 11 Feb 2022 09:37 PM

Two US senators said the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has been secretly collecting "bulk" information on American citizens without congressional oversight.

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

The agency said the programmes involved "counter-terrorism intelligence-related activities" that operated under Executive Order 12333.

It also announced that portions of reports on the programmes were being declassified, according to a statement on Thursday (Feb 10).

The senators, members of the Intelligence Committee, say that the agency "has conducted its own bulk programme" 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, what sort of information was collected and from whom.

Mr Wyden and Mr Heinrich, who had asked about the amount of data collected and the circumstances of its storage and dissemination, said the programme or programmes 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. 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 on Thursday night. In the two-page statement on Thursday, the CIA said it keeps the Intelligence panel up to speed on its programmes 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. Mr 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 programmes, infringing on the rights of literally every American, and completely evading the the oversight of Congress and the courts".