Former President George W. Bush first authorized the National Security Agency's phone and Internet surveillance programs just after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, National Intelligence Director James Clapper said Saturday as part of declassified disclosures about the programs' beginnings.
Both the Bush and Obama administrations have been fighting civil liberties advocates' demands for years to disclose details about the extent of the program — and on Friday, the Obama administration ordered some of the information about the beginnings of the programs to be declassified, reports The Wall Street Journal
On Friday, Clapper and NSA Deputy Director Frances Fleisch also filed formal statements as part of a lawsuit brought against the government by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The EFF claims in its suit that the program, which continued under the Obama administration, conducts surveillance on "practically every American who uses the phone system or the Internet," but Clapper and Fleisch denied those claims.
"The NSA's collection of the content of communications under the TSP [or Terrorist Surveillance Program] was directed at international communications in which a participant was reasonably believed to be associated with al-Qaida or an affiliated organization," Clapper said in his statement.
The NSA still refuses to give detailed information about the surveillance, with Clapper saying that giving specifics could bring "exceptionally grave harm to national security."
The EFF and other civil liberties advocates have been trying for years to get information about U.S. surveillance programs, even before former NSA contractor Edward Snowden made off with countless NSA files and disclosed them to the media.
The program, back in the Bush days, was known as the President's Surveillance Program and the Terrorist Surveillance Program. Bush acknowledged the programs' existence in 2005, but first his administration and then Obama's have been fighting efforts to discuss the programs' details.
In May 2006, Bush transferred authority to collect the phone records to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court. Authority to collect Internet data was transferred to the court in 2007.
Civil libertarians, though, disagree with government officials' claims that the court provides oversight that prevents surveillance abuses.
Clapper's disclosures are in direct conflict with testimony he gave Congress during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in March, in which he denied that the NSA collected any "type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans."
Shortly after his initial statements, Clapper apologized
in a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, saying that his testimony was "clearly erroneous."
Members of the House Judiciary Committee, including USA Patriot Act author Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., this week called for an investigation into whether the veteran official lied under oath, reports McClatchyDC
Fellow Republican committee members Darrell Issa, R-Calif.; Trent Franks, R-Ariz.; Blake Farenthold, R-Texas; Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.; Raul Labrador, R-Idaho; and Ted Poe, R-Texas, joined Sensenbrenner in the demand.
Just three months after Clapper had testified, Snowden came forth with his revelations that the NSA had been collecting databases of Americans' phone and Internet data, including both the sender and recipient lines of emails, telephone numbers dialed and lengths of call.
"Congressional oversight depends on truthful testimony — witnesses cannot be allowed to lie to Congress,” the Judiciary Committee members' letter reads.
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