Published time: November 18, 2013 17:37
The newspaper reported on Monday that the amount of FOIA requests received by the NSA has surged exponentially in recent months, particularly after former contractor-turned-leaker Edward Snowden began releasing classified internal documents in June detailing the agency’s lesser-known intelligence gathering operations.
“Fueled by the Edward Snowden scandal, more Americans than ever are asking the National Security Agency if their personal life is being spied on,” Yamiche Alcindor wrote for USA Today.
Indeed, the thousands of FOIA requests filed by Americans since June far outnumber the mere hundreds that it received annually in previous years.
According to Alcindor, the NSA only received 257 FOIA requests during the last fiscal year. Shortly after the first Snowden leak appeared on June 6, however, the agency became flooded with 1,302 requests almost immediately. During the following three months, the paper reported, the NSA received 2,538 requests, the likes of which have inundated the government staffers tasked with responding for the open records requests.
Pamela Phillips, the chief of the NSA Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act Office, told the paper that "This was the largest spike we've ever had."
"We've had requests from individuals who want any records we have on their phone calls, their phone numbers, their e-mail addresses, their IP addresses, anything like that,” Phillips said.
Unfortunately for those thousands of Americans, however, the NSA isn’t being all that helpful. Even though the NSA is experiencing thousands of similar requests from Americans wanting to know if and how they’ve been targeted, the agency has been responding by refusing to admit what kind of intelligence, if any, it’s collected.
Thirty-five-year-old Joel Watts of West Virginia told the paper that he sent a request but was told in response that the NSA couldn’t say if they had any information on him.
"It's a sign of disrespect to American citizens and the democratic process,” Watts, a health and safety administrator, told the paper. "I should have the right to know if I'm being surveyed if there's no criminal procedures in process."
That isn’t to say that the NSA is only now refusing to honor those requests, however. In August, Kevin Collier wrote for The Daily Dot that he filed a FOIA request with the agency for information on himself and was given a nearly identical response. Collier was quick to file a request shortly after Mr. Snowden first revealed proof of the NSA’s ever-expanding spy apparatus in June, only to be told by the NSA several weeks later that details about the agency’s programs cannot be discussed publically in order “to prevent harm to the national security of the United States."
"[Y]our request is denied because the fact of the existence or non-existence of responsive records is a currently and properly classified matter," the agency wrote him.
"Our adversaries are likely to evaluate all public responses related to these programs," the NSA said at the time to Collier. "Were we to provide positive or negative responses to requests such as yours, our adversaries' compilation of the information provided would reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security."
Months later, the NSA is apparently still giving concerned Americans the same runaround.
"We know we're dealing with frustrated people and people who are upset by what they're hearing," Phillips explained to USA Today, "But that's the only response that we're able to provide them on that topic."
"People are legitimately troubled by the idea that the government is monitoring and collecting information about their e-mail traffic, phone calls and who knows what else," chimed in Anne Weismann, a chief counsel at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "There is a growing sense of horror every time there is a new report about the data."
It's outrageous and profoundly chilling. British authorities detained the partner of Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who broke the NSA spying scandal by publishing documents from the whistleblower Edward Snowden in the UK's Guardian newspaper.
David Miranda was flying to the home he shares in Brazil with journalist Glenn Greenwald after visiting Laura Poitras in Berlin. Poitras, an American filmmaker, has been working with Greenwald to produce reporting on the NSA's secret domestic spying programs. He was carrying flash drives containing documents that were part of the investigative reporting by Greenwald and Poitras.1
Normally British authorities need probable cause to detain someone for hours at Heathrow airport in London, deny them access to an attorney and confiscate their belongings. But not if they say you are suspected of being involved in terrorism.
That's just what happened to Miranda. He was detained under Schedule 7 of the British Terrorism Act and held for nearly nine hours -- the maximum allowed without levying charges. When anti-terrorism powers are invoked, Schedule 7 allows British authorities to stop and search anyone without warrant or reasonable suspicion. Miranda was eventually released but his cellphone, flash drives and computers were confiscated.
Tell the UK: Journalists are not terrorists. Detaining their family members is unacceptable. Click here to automatically sign the petition.
Said Greenwald in reaction, "This is obviously a rather profound escalation of their attacks on the news-gathering process and journalism. It's bad enough to prosecute and imprison sources. It's worse still to imprison journalists who report the truth. But to start detaining the family members and loved ones of journalists is simply despotic."2
The New York Times reports that Miranda was carrying as of yet unpublished documents from the Snowden trove of NSA evidence from Poitras back to Greenwald. He was clearly not targeted because he was a suspected terrorist -- but rather because he was linked to investigative journalists working to expose the unconstitutional spying programs at NSA. But he was detained under a law intended to stop terrorism -- a law that permits authorities to deny him access to a lawyer and take his possessions without a court order.
In the wake of the incident, Amnesty International charged, "It is utterly improbable that David Michael Miranda, a Brazilian national transiting through London, was detained at random, given the role his partner has played in revealing the truth about the unlawful nature of NSA surveillance… The only possible intent behind this detention was to harass him and his partner, Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, for his role in analyzing the data released by Edward Snowden."3
Tell the UK: Journalists are not terrorists. Stop the war on journalists. Click here to automatically sign the petition.
This is not an isolated incident. There is an escalating war on journalists and whistleblowers in the U.S. who are increasingly threatened with prosecution by the current administration for investigating the executive branch. 4 And now the British authorities are taking a leading role by using anti-terror laws to suppress the exercise of a free press.
The uncovering of a far-reaching domestic spy operation only underscores the need for a strong and independent press to help expose abuses of power at the highest levels of our government and give the public the information we need to hold our government accountable to the Constitution.
It should never be allowed in a democracy to use the security apparatus to intimidate and harass a journalist investigating government abuse. And the UK's targeting of a journalist's spouse under the guise of an anti-terrorism investigation is clearly an escalation of the security state's war on journalism.
Americans need to send a direct message to British officials who may be acting in coordination with U.S. military and intelligence agencies that this is unacceptable. We'll deliver your signatures directly to Sir Peter Westmacott, the British Ambassador to the U.S., Philip Barton, Deputy Head of Mission to the U.S., and Major General Buster Howes, the Defence Attache to the U.S. at the British embassy in Washington, DC.
Thank you for standing up for a free and independent press.
Becky Bond, Politcal Director
CREDO Action from Working Assets
Edward Snowden, 29, is described by the paper as an ex-CIA technical assistant, currently employed by defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton.
The Guardian said his identity was being revealed at his own request.
The recent revelations are that US agencies gathered millions of phone records and monitored internet data.
A spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said the matter had now been referred to the Department of Justice as a criminal matter.
In a statement, Booz Allen Hamilton confirmed Mr Snowden had been an employee for less than three months.
"If accurate, this action represents a grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm," the statement said.
The US National Security Agency (NSA) is collecting the telephone records of tens of millions of Americans, according to the Guardian newspaper.
The newspaper published what it said was a secret court order directing the Verizon company to hand over data on its customers on an "ongoing" basis.
Civil liberties groups said the details of the report were "stunning".
The White House broadly defended the practice as a "critical" security tool but did not confirm the report.
US authorities need the information to protect the nation from terrorist threats, a senior Obama administration official told the BBC.