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Was Congress Briefed on NSA’s X-Keyscore Program Before Today?

President Obama is meeting today with key members of the Senate involved in NSA oversight, the day after the Guardian released details of the NSA’s X-Keyscore program.

And since many of these Senators have been publicly swearing up and down that the NSA has no program which collects email content or telephone calls, it’s entirely possible that this is the first time many of them have been briefed on the details of X-Keyscore.

Historically the White House has justified NSA spying programs by saying that Congress has been fully briefed on them.  But in yesterday’s White House press briefing, Press Secretary Jay Carney repeatedly refused to confirm that members of Congress ever knew of X-Keyscore’s existence:

Q    — today revealed details of another NSA top-secret program — this one called X-Keyscore, and it allows analysts to search not just metadata but the content of emails, search history without prior approval.  Did the administration let members — any members of Congress know about this before today?

MR. CARNEY:  As we’ve explained, and the intelligence community has explained, allegations of widespread, unchecked analyst access to NSA collection data are false.  Access to all of NSA’s analytic tools is limited to only those personnel who require access for their assigned tasks.  And there are multiple technical manual and supervisory checks and balances within the system to prevent those who don’t have access from achieving that access.

For further information, I’d refer you to the intelligence community.

Q    The question was, were there any members of Congress who were informed about the existence of X-Keyscore?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the question was frontloaded with assertions that I had an answer to —

Q    — the details of this program which were revealed today.  But the question is, were there any members of Congress who were informed before today about the existence of the program or its capabilities?

MR. CARNEY:  I would refer you to the intelligence community, to the ODNI for more information about that.

Q    But in the past, the administration has used the fact that it’s informed members of Congress as justification for these surveillance programs.  Are you not able to give us an assurance that Congress —

MR. CARNEY:  I’d would refer you — I’m saying that I don’t know the answer to that, and I would refer you to the intelligence community —

Q    So you don’t know whether Congress was informed?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I would refer you to the intelligence community.  What I did do is assert that some of the claims made in that article are false.  So informing people about false claims isn’t necessarily what we do.

Among the Senators meeting with the President today are Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, who have been sharp critics of both the NSA’s programs and the veracity of the information the agency has been giving to congress.

Also in attendance will be Saxby Chambliss, ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, who on Sunday told George Stephanopolous:

I was back at NSA just last week. I spent a couple of hours there with high-level and low-level NSA officials. And what I’ve been assured of is that there is no capability at NSA for anyone without a court order to listen to any telephone conversation or to monitor any email.

Chambliss will be the one with the egg on his face.

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Firedoglake.com. Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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