The National Security Agency under former President Barack Obama routinely violated American privacy protections while scouring through overseas intercepts and failed to disclose the extent of the problems until the final days before Donald Trump was elected president last fall, according to once top-secret documents that chronicle some of the most serious constitutional abuses to date by the U.S. intelligence community.
More than 5 percent, or one out of every 20 searches seeking upstream Internet data on Americans inside the NSA’s so-called Section 702 database violated the safeguards Obama and his intelligence chiefs vowed to follow in 2011, according to one classified internal report reviewed by Circa.
The Obama administration self-disclosed the problems at a closed-door hearing Oct. 26 before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that set off alarm. Trump was elected less than two weeks later.
The normally supportive court censured administration officials, saying the failure to disclose the extent of the violations earlier amounted to an “institutional lack of candor” and that the improper searches constituted a “very serious Fourth Amendment issue,” according to a recently unsealed court document dated April 26, 2017.
The admitted violations undercut one of the primary defenses that the intelligence community and Obama officials have used in recent weeks to justify their snooping into incidental NSA intercepts about Americans.
Circa has reported that there was a three-fold increase in NSA data searches about Americans and a rise in the unmasking of U.S. person’s identities in intelligence reports after Obama loosened the privacy rules in 2011.
Officials like former National Security Adviser Susan Rice have argued their activities were legal under the so-called minimization rule changes Obama made, and that the intelligence agencies were strictly monitored to avoid abuses.
The intelligence court and the NSA’s own internal watchdog found that not to be true.
“Since 2011, NSA’s minimization procedures have prohibited use of U.S.-person identifiers to query the results of upstream Internet collections under Section 702,” the unsealed court ruling declared. “The Oct. 26, 2016 notice informed the court that NSA analysts had been conducting such queries inviolation of that prohibition, with much greater frequency than had been previously disclosed to the Court.”
Speaking Wednesday on Fox News, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said there was an apparent effort under the Obama Administration to increase the number of unmaskings of Americans.
“If we determine this to be true, this is an enormous abuse of power,” Paul said. “This will dwarf all other stories.”