(National Sentinel) Spies Like Us: Several former U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials familiar with the program say that the FBI regularly used NSA surveillance to gain warrantless “backdoor” access to Americans’ communications.
Investigative reporter Sara Carter notes on her website that the whistleblowers, who have recently disclosed the program’s process to congressional oversight committees, noted that concern over the warrantless surveillance increased when it was revealed earlier this year that Obama administration officials had accessed and unmasked the communications of Team Trump members, allegedly without any real justification.
One of them was Trump’s first national security advisor, Michael Flynn, who recently agreed to plead guilty in federal court for lying to FBI agents about his contacts with Russian officials. None of those contacts, reports later noted, were improper, so it isn’t clear why Flynn felt the need to conceal them.
The process, known as ‘reverse targeting,’ occurs when intelligence and law enforcement officials use a foreign person as a legal pretense for their intended target, an American citizen, the officials stated. The program, as it exists, failed to prevent terror attacks and in many cases made incorrect connections between a foreign target and an innocent American, they stated.
The officials said the program was set up after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but that it has not resulted in preventing any future threats. Rather, they said, it infringes on Fourth Amendment privacy protects and was ripe for political abuse.
“The program can be misused by anyone with access to it,” a former Intelligence official with knowledge of the program told Carter. “There needs to be an extensive investigation of all the Americans connected to President Trump and the campaign who were unmasked in connection with the 2016 election.”
Carter noted further:
The former intelligence source said the extent of abuses under the surveillance program has been debated both publicly and privately throughout the Bush and Obama administrations, both which promised to revamp the covert program and stop warrantless surveillance of Americans. It didn’t happen.
The program was first disclosed in a New York Times article from 2005 , and was later outed by its codename Stellar Wind when whistleblower, now fugitive, Edward Snowden released thousands of classified government documents showing the extensive Internet and phone surveillance of American’s by the NSA, according to reports. Since 2001, various legal authorities were put in place to justify the access to communications and giving the appearance that the practice of warrantless surveillance was strictly regulated.
Added another intelligence official aware of the program: “The warrantless surveillance program had the appearance of being shut down following the 2005 New York Times article that exposed it. However, a few weeks later, the FISC (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) approved what is known as bulk FISA collection. This FISA authority allowed for the targeting of domestic numbers believed to be tainted.”
Members of Congress are preparing to vote on whether to reauthorize Section 701 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which will expire at year’s end. Critics of the section noted that in the course of U.S. intelligence agencies putting legitimate foreign targets under surveillance, Americans’ communications are often swept up as well.
Most often, their identities are hidden in final intelligence products and reports. But in rare instances, administration officials and intelligence agencies can request that Americans’ names be “unmasked,” which is what happened to Flynn.
As Carter and her intelligence sources noted, the process can be politicized, which appears to have been the case involving Team Trump members last year.
NSA whistleblower William Binney, who spent close to 40 years working on Signals Intelligence operations, told Carter the heart of abuse lies with Executive Order 12333, which was issued in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan.
Specifically, he said, section 2.3 paragraph C allows for the collection of all Internet and phone communications.
Binney left the NSA in 2001, after learning how intrusive and unconstitutional the program had become.
An FBI unit managing the program was known as “Team 10.” The expert analysts were based in a special division inside the NSA which was known as “Homeland” and located at Fort Meade, Md.
“The program is not inherently bad or corrupt,” an intelligence official, with knowledge of the program, told Carter. “It needs a major tweak, a restructuring of processes and authorities. If left unchallenged and unchecked, rampant abuse will continue and increase as we have seen for some time.”
During testimony before Congress before he was fired by Trump, then-FBI Director James Comey told lawmakers that any warrantless data access by the bureau was “lawfully collected, carefully overseen and checked.”
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