Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 11, 2016

Intelligence Director Appears to Concede NSA Searched Communications (Video)

James R. Clapper Jr.

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The National Security Agency may have read your communications, albeit under limited circumstances.

That seems to be the takeaway of a newly-released letter from Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. to noted NSA skeptic Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

“There have been queries, using U.S. person identifiers, of communications lawfully acquired to obtain foreign intelligence by targeting non U.S. persons reasonably believed to be located outside the U.S. pursuant to Section 702 of FISA,” Clapper wrote in a March 28 letter to Wyden.

Wyden and Colorado Democratic Sen. Mark Udall offered a scathing joint response to Clapper’s letter.

“Senior officials have sometimes suggested that government agencies do not deliberately read Americans’ emails, monitor their online activity or listen to their phone calls without a warrant. However, the facts show that those suggestions were misleading, and that intelligence agencies have indeed conducted warrantless searches for Americans’ communications using the ‘back-door search’ loophole in section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act,” the two senators wrote. “Today’s admission by the Director of National Intelligence is further proof that meaningful surveillance reform must include closing the back-door searches loophole and requiring the intelligence community to show probable cause before deliberately searching through data collected under section 702 to find the communications of individual Americans.”

Wyden had questioned Clapper about the communications collected under section 702 of FISA at an open hearing of the Intelligence Committee back in January, although Clapper was careful to avoid tipping his hand in that setting.

“There are very complex legal issues here that I just don’t think this is the appropriate time to discuss them,” Clapper said during that appearance before the committee on Jan. 29.

It appears that the answer to the question, months later, is that yes, some searches took place.

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