Photo courtesy: The Associated Press via USA TODAY
WASHINGTON -- In the face of growing skepticism over the National
Security Agency's practice of collecting bulk phone and Internet
records, the director of national intelligence on Saturday declassified
several documents detailing the program.
declassification of documents comes during a week in which a federal
judge ruled the NSA's bulk collection was likely unconstitutional and a
White House task force questioned the effectiveness of the program.
of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a statement announcing
the release that President George W. Bush first authorized the spying in
October 2001, as part of the Terrorist Surveillance Program, weeks
after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"President Bush issued authorizations approximately every 30-60
days," Clapper said. "Although the precise terms changed over time, each
presidential authorization required the minimization of information
collected concerning American citizens to the extent consistent with the
effective accomplishment of the mission of detection and prevention of
acts of terrorism within the United States. NSA also applied additional
internal constraints on the presidentially-authorized activities."
for the bulk collection was eventually shifted to the Foreign
Surveillance Intelligence Court, a secret court that considers
government requests for electronic surveillance for
The documents released include
legal arguments by two former national intelligence directors under Bush
- Dennis Blair and Mike McConnell - who state their legal case for why
it was essential to keep secret the practice of bulk data collection.
The unclassified documents are part of an ongoing court case that was
filed in 2006.
"These are among the most important intelligence
tools the NSA uses, and they have never been officially confirmed or
denied by the United States," McConnell offers in his argument.
"Disclosing or confirming these activities would seriously undermine an
essential tool for tracking possible terrorist plots and would help
foreign adversaries evade detection."
But in recent days, both advisers of President Obama and a Bush
appointed federal judge have offered very different assessments about
the utility and legality of the practice.
U.S. District Court
Judge Richard Leon ruled on Monday on a lawsuit brought by conservative
activist Larry Klayman that the legal challenge to the massive
surveillance program - disclosed in full earlier this year by former NSA
contractor Edward Snowden - would likely succeed.
concludes that plaintiffs have standing to challenge the
constitutionality of the government's bulk collection and querying of
phone record metadata, that they have demonstrated a substantial
likelihood of success on the merits of their Fourth Amendment claim (of
unlawful search and seizure), and that they will suffer irreparable harm
absent...relief,'' wrote Leon, who was appointed to the bench by Bush.
task force Obama appointed in August to review the NSA surveillance
program and recommend changes concluded in their report - which was made
public on Wednesday - that the data collection program was "not
essential to preventing attacks."
Before leaving for his two-week
Hawaii vacation on Friday, Obama said he and his aides were evaluating
all of the recommendations by the five-member panel, and that he would
offer a response to their suggestions in January. He hinted that that
changes to the bulk data collections could be coming.
"The question we're going to have to ask is can we accomplish the
same goals that this program is intended to accomplish in ways that give
the public more confidence that, in fact, the NSA is doing what it's
supposed to be doing," Obama said. "I have confidence in the fact that
the NSA is not engaging in domestic surveillance or snooping around, but
I also recognize that as technologies change and people can start
running algorithms and programs that map out all the information that
we're downloading on a daily basis into our telephones and our
The president added, "We may have to refine this further to give people more confidence. "