(FreedomBeacon.com)- Two Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee have accused the Central Intelligence Agency of possessing a secret undisclosed data repository that includes information collected on American citizens and has kept this program hidden both from Congress and the public.
In an April 2021 letter declassified last week, Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) had called on top intelligence officials to declassify more details about the data repository program.
While large segments of the letter and documents released by the CIA were redacted, Wyden and Heinrich wrote that the CIA program was operating “outside the statutory framework both Congress and the public “believe govern this collection.”
Both the CIA and the NSA have a foreign mission and are generally barred from investigating Americans or US businesses. However, the massive collection of foreign communications from both agencies often ensnares American citizens’ messages and data “incidentally.”
To rectify that, the intel agencies are required to take steps to protect US information collected, including redacting (aka “masking”) the names of Americans unless they are deemed relevant to the investigation (aka “unmasking”).
In a statement on Friday, the CIA claimed that these are simply “repositories of information” pertaining to surveillance on foreign targets, and the programs were classified to prevent foreign adversaries from compromising them. It said members of congressional oversight committees were kept “fully and currently informed” on the classified activities related to these programs.
In short, the CIA is claiming that Wyden and Heinrich are making a fuss over nothing and all that information about US citizens is just the “incidental” collection from foreign spying.
According to the CIA’s Friday statement, the agency is allowed to “incidentally acquire” data on Americans if they are in contact with foreign nationals. It reiterated that this incidental collection is safeguarded “in accordance with procedures approved by the Attorney General which restrict the CIA’s ability to collect, retain, use, and disseminate the information.”
However, Wyden and Heinrich believe the CIA’s bulk collection program operates outside of laws passed and reformed by Congress. Instead, it obtained its authority to retain incidental collection through an executive order initially signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981.
In their April letter, the senators argued that Congress cannot legislate without an awareness of the CIA’s program, nor should the American public be misled into believing that any legislative reforms “fully cover” the intelligence community’s “collection of their records.”