NSA Searched More Phone Numbers Last Year

Saturday, 28 Jun 2014 10:47 PM

By Todd Beamon

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The National Security Agency in 2013 searched 50 percent more telephone numbers under its vast data-surveillance program over the year before, but the report disclosing that statistic provides few new details on how many Americans and foreigners were targeted by the effort.

"This report is a sign that ODNI [the Office of the Director of National Intelligence] is grappling with the challenge of transparency, which is good, but they haven't quite figured out how to meet the challenge," Steven Aftergood, a government transparency expert at the Federation of American Scientists, told The Wall Street Journal.

ODNI released the report on Friday as part of the Obama administration's effort to provide more clarity on the issue in light of the uproar after confidential information about the programs were leaked to news organizations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The report, prepared by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, said that 423 phone numbers were searched in 2013, compared with 288 the year before, the Journal reports.

But the data only represent the number of terror suspects whose phone numbers are searched daily. This increase includes the phone numbers obtained via continual, new data dumps of American telephone records — and any connection that can be searched two degrees out from the original phone number, the Journal reports. The process creates vastly larger groups of individuals whose records are examined by the NSA.

The Journal also noted that Clapper's report omitted some information, including an acknowledgment of the millions of American phone records collected by the NSA to build its database for searches, and information on the number of Americans whose communications get swept up in the investigating of foreign intelligence targets.

But Jeffrey Anchukaitis, a spokesman for Clapper, said the data would become more useful over time.

"Over the years, the ability to compare statistics on the use of certain legal authorities should increase the report's utility," he told the Journal, "but even absent comparable numbers, the report gives a sense of the usage of these tools."

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