WASHINGTON – The White House denied Thursday spying on U.S. citizens or people living in the United States, after revelations of a vast Internet surveillance program.
A senior Obama administration official said that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the executive branch and Congress all have oversight over the program.
The official offered a vigorous defense of the program, saying it provides “among the most important and valuable intelligence information we collect, and is used to protect our nation from a wide variety of threats.”
“The government may only . . . acquire foreign intelligence information, which is specifically, and narrowly, defined in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act,” the official added. “This requirement applies across the board, regardless of the nationality of the target.”
Former National Security Agency employees said the publishing of a court order asking communications company Verizon to hand over all its phone call records for a three-month period opens a new window on an operation that has been in place for years and involves all major phone companies in the country.
“NSA has been doing all this stuff all along, and it’s been all these companies, not just one,” William Binney told news program Democracy Now on Thursday. “They’re just continuing the collection of this data on all U.S. citizens.”
Binney, who worked at NSA for almost 40 years, left the agency after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 because he objected to the expansion of its surveillance of U.S. citizens.
The NSA’s original charter was to eavesdrop on communications between countries, not inside the U.S. That expansion of its mission appears to have happened after Sept. 11, but the agency has denied that it spies on domestic communications.
Binney estimates that the NSA collects records on 3 billion calls per day.
“These are routine orders,” said Thomas Drake, another NSA whistle-blower. “What’s new is we’re seeing an actual order, and people are surprised by it.”
“We’ve been saying this for years from the wilderness,” Drake told Democracy Now. “But it’s like, hey, everybody went to sleep while the government is collecting all these records.”