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Documents Raise Concerns About Extent of CIA Spying Inside the United States

The American Civil Liberties Union published a batch of documents obtained from the CIA on how it complies with and understands Executive Order 12333, an executive order issued by President Ronald Reagan which mandates the powers and responsibilities of US intelligence agencies. The documents strongly suggest that the agency engages in an extensive amount of domestic spying operations that are largely kept secret from the American people.

Of the 49 documents released, many of them are policy briefings on what the CIA can and cannot collect on US persons when conducting spying operations. They largely have to do with the rules that the agency is expected to follow and how the agency goes about complying with them. However, many of the documents are highly censored.

The CIA claims much of the information in the documents involves “classified secret matters or national defense or foreign policy.” It also believes that the National Security Act partly exempts the agency from the Freedom of Information Act, which is why many of the documents have huge chunks of information missing.

What can be gleaned from the documents is that the agency has a secret definition of “monitoring” as it relates to surveillance of US persons that the public is not allowed to know:

Secret definition of monitoring - CIA

The definition of “electronic surveillance” in regards to US persons is partially censored too, however, the CIA will let the public know that “electronic surveillance” involves the “acquisition of a non-public communication by electronic means without the consent of any party to the communication or, in the case of a non-electronic communication, without the consent of a person who is visibly present at the place of communication.”

Part of the definition for “unconsented physical searches,” which requires Attorney General approval, is censored.

Details from a “memorandum of understanding” [PDF] between the FBI and CIA provides a glimpse at how the two agencies coordinate spying activities:

FBI-CIA Coordination

Another document, “CIA and EO 12333: Overview for the ICIG Boston Review Forum” [PDF], dated June 2013, outlines detailed talking points, which includes some details on the loopholes the agency might be able to use to obtain information on US citizens.

The CIA is allowed to “provide specialized equipment and technical knowledge to assist another department or agency in the conduct by that department or agency of lawful and authorized electronic surveillance in the United States.”

There are apparently times when the CIA may operate “monitoring devices” in the US:

Screen shot 2015-06-15 at 4.00.31 PM

However, there are details related to when those “monitoring devices” may be used that are classified.

There seems to be an array of reasons to justify retaining or hanging on to information about US persons if the CIA collects or “inadvertently” happens to get their hands on such data.

Retention CIA US Persons Data

Of particular note is the part of that policy that says the data may be retained if it is “information needed to protect the safety of persons or organizations; information needed to protect foreign intelligence or counterintelligence sources [including informants] and methods from unauthorized disclosure; information concerning personnel, physical, or communications security; information acquired by overhead reconnaissance [FBI spy planes?]; information that may indicate involvement in activities that may violate federal, state, local or foreign laws; or information necessary for administrative purposes.” [Emphasis added.]

The same document says the CIA may share any data on US persons with other employees in the agency in order to help them figure out if the information is relevant to “mission responsibilities” and can be “lawfully retained.” It can even be shared with people outside the CIA to help determine if the information was collected lawfully and relates to missions the CIA is authorized to conduct.

Identity information is typically supposed to not be maintained with the data. But the CIA may keep a US person’s identifying information if it is “reasonably believed” it “may become necessary” to understanding or assessing the information.

Here’s a briefing slide that indicates spying on US persons can be done to figure out if a person may be suitable to become an informant for the CIA (see bottom bullet point):

Screen shot 2015-06-15 at 2.45.58 PM

To what extent is the CIA spying on American Muslims, who they believe should be recruited to serve their agenda in overseas missions? How is the FBI cooperating with the CIA to provide names of potential informants for missions?

It is highly intrusive activity to enter the live of someone for the purpose of manipulating them into being part of a counterterrorism operation. If they do not comply, often there may be coercive measures or a sting operation that follows. This effectively is retaliation for not helping the government.

From another briefing, this shows how information may be shared with agencies outside of the CIA:

Screen shot 2015-06-15 at 2.32.09 PM

The CIA has an arrangement with the Drug Enforcement Agency, but the document describing the coordination between the two agencies as it relates to US persons is almost entirely censored.

The agency functions in a manner where it will collect first and ask questions about the data later. Specifically, if there is a “risk of intelligence loss,” the agent or analyst collects the information and then whether to keep the information or not may be decided later.

Screen shot 2015-06-15 at 4.21.17 PM

Just about all of the documents between the CIA and the oversight intelligence committees in Congress are entirely censored. There is not a lot to be gleaned in regards to oversight, but there is a copy of an August 2002 report from the agency’s inspector general, which indicates there were some significant issues between 1995 and 2000.

Screen shot 2015-06-15 at 2.41.23 PM

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), which a group of hawkish Republicans are trying to gut, is in the midst of a review of CIA operations under Executive Order 12333 (in addition to NSA operations).

What is at issue here is how the CIA understands policies and laws governing and prohibiting domestic surveillance. There are certain details the agency should not be able to keep secret from the public, especially since it has a rich history of abusing its authority and violating the rights of citizens.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."

  • Alice X

    What is at issue here is how the CIA understands policies and laws
    governing and prohibiting domestic surveillance. There are certain
    details the agency should not be able to keep secret from the public,
    especially since it has a rich history of abusing its authority and
    violating the rights of citizens.

    Thank you, Kevin. This may the be the cautionary statement of the century. So far.

    This is from 1987. Bill Moyers:

    The secret government has no constitution.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28K2CO-khdY

  • http://symbalitics.blogspot.com/ stirling

    You should put up a note telling members to call their Congress critter to vote no on TAA.

  • http://firedoglake.com/ CTuttle

    …information that may indicate involvement in activities that may violate federal, state, local or foreign laws…

    So much for their original mandate barring it from operating here in the States…!

  • kgosztola

    That has absolutely nothing to do with this post

  • sisterlauren

    It is like the CIA is those horrible big nasty spiders in the Hobbit movies and books.

  • http://firedoglake.com/ CTuttle

    I’ve got a terrific eye-opener on tap, stirling…! 😉