NSA won't reveal how many Americans have been spied on

By on June 20, 2012, 1:30 PM

Last month a pair of US Senators inquired as to how many people within the country had been spied upon by the National Security Agency in the wake of updates to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in 2008. Getting a straightforward answer proved impossible as Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall were told that such information would violate the privacy of US persons.

The question was reportedly passed around through the intelligence bureaucracy before landing on the desk of I. Charges McCullough, III, Inspector General of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the nominal head of the 16 U.S. spy agencies.

Danger Room acquired a letter dated June 15 from McCullough to both senators where he thanked them for the inquiry and goes on to explain that the request was passed along to NSA Inspector General George Ellard as he would be able to answer the question in a more timely manner.

Ellard concluded that obtaining such an estimate was beyond the capacity of his office and to bring in additional resources needed to get a solid answer would “impede the NSA’s mission.” NSA leadership agreed that collecting such data would itself violate the privacy of US persons.

“All that Senator Udall and I are asking for is a ballpark estimate of how many Americans have been monitored under this law, and it is disappointing that the Inspectors General cannot provide it,” Wyden told Danger Room. “If no one will even estimate how many Americans have had their communications collected under this law then it is all the more important that Congress act to close the ‘back door searches’ loophole, to keep the government from searching for Americans’ phone calls and emails without a warrant.”

Wired points out that the FISA Amendment Act allows the NSA to no longer require probable cause to intercept phone calls, text messages or emails so long as one person in the string of communication is “reasonably” believed to be outside of the US.

“If the FISA Amendments Act is not susceptible to oversight in this way, it should be repealed, not renewed,” said Steve Aftergood, a secrecy expert at the Federation of American Scientists.

User Comments: 7

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MilwaukeeMike said:

They should have asked the question differently. How many people were spied is probably a tough question to answer. They should have asked how many phone calls or how many emails. Why would the NSA keep track of the number of people who are spied on? I'm sure they don't care at all how many... they only care if they get the right ones.

Good to know though that they're listning... next time I talk to my associates in no-where-I-stan I'll be sure to watch what I say.

wiyosaya said:

As I see it, the requested data would not violate the privacy of US citizens. It sounds like the senators were asking for a number. Giving a number without specifically identifying who was spied on in no way violates the privacy of Americans.

More BS from a spy agency, and I really, really hope that these congressional members do not settle for that answer.


Everybody has been spied on... the only way for them to tell who is bad and who is good, is to spy on everybody...

spydercanopus spydercanopus said:

Anyone who owns technology is being spied on.

killeriii said:

I would think most past inquiries that led to nothing have been sealed or destroyed.

I do think it would be a violation to look back or keep track of those inquiries if there is no just cause.

I'm also thinking this would be like asking how many people have been arrested in the US. Impossible to put a number to.

Guest said:

You are being watched. The government has a secret system: a machine that spies on you every hour of every day
- Person of Interest

MilwaukeeMike said:

You are being watched. The government has a secret system: a machine that spies on you every hour of every day
- Person of Interest

True... and the irony is, as spooky as that sounds, the whole show is about the people who are helped because they were spied on.

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