Pressure continued to mount against the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA)’s mass automated surveillance of millions of individuals’ Internet and telephone communications as members of Congress began interrogating senior NSA officials about spying programmes and the Obama administration relented on declassifying a key court authorisation for snooping.
On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee gave members an opportunity to quiz top officials at the Justice Department, FBI and NSA, in addition to the top lawyer for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
At the hearing, both Democrat and Republican Senators were said to have “questioned the truthfulness of the U.S. intelligence community”, with Committee Chair Patrick Leahy saying, “We need straightforward answers, and I’m concerned we’re not getting them.”
Along with Republican Chuck Grassley, Democrat Leahy specifically levelled criticism at Director of National Intelligence James Clapper for fudging the truth about when he said that the NSA did “not wittingly” collect data on millions of Americans. In a June letter to Congress, he apologised for that remark describing it as “clearly erroneous” and attributing to the fact that he “simply didn’t think” of a particular section of the U.S. Patriot Act when giving that answer.
Last week, the House of Representatives came unprecedentedly close to defunding an NSA programme to covertly collect Americans’ telephone records, around two months after whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that telecom giant Verizon was providing the Agency with users’ telephone “meta-data”.
Anticipating the grilling it may face in Congress, the Obama administration declassified the order of the shadowy Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court directing Verizon to hand over user meta-data to the NSA and on Wednesday The Washington Post quoted an unnamed official source who spoke of the order’s upcoming release.
According to The Post, the officials said the court order on the subject that was released by Mr. Snowden was a “secondary” order and they hoped that the document being released would shed light on how the U.S. government obtained communications records and “the restrictions placed on surveillance programs”.
Potentially deepening the NSA’s embarrassment over the entire episode, The Guardian continued with the release of documents supplied by Mr. Snowden, this week highlighting an NSA programme called “XKeyscore”, which according to NSA training materials is the NSA’s “widest reaching” spying system that could cover “nearly everything a typical user does on the internet”, including the content of e-mails, websites visited and searches, as well as their metadata.