Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Photo: (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
The Director of National Intelligence released more than 2,000 pages of formerly top secret documents today, including a lengthy description of a major email metadata collection program that was discontinued in 2011 — a program that collected, in bulk, the email metadata associated with millions of Americans. The NSA, somewhat confusingly, refers to this program as the Pen Register/Trap and Trace, PR/TT program, even though it has nothing to do with traditional telephone calls, which is what those terms are generally associated with. (The collection of telephone records is referred to as the "BR FISA" collection).
The PR/TT program, the NSA says, was subject to rigorous oversight. Compliance problems arose in 2009, and the agency suspended the program. Here are details from the court order authorizing it.
* The NSA's PR/TT program cannot be revived without Justice Department approval, per the FISA Court.
* There is a reference to an "innovative" FISA Court decision that allowed the collection of bulk email metadata, but the name of the case is redacted.
* A document provides some insight into how the NSA "alert list," or "station table" of domestic numbers that are reasonably believed to be associated with a foreign power or terrorist organization, works. A number can find its way onto the list because the FISA Court specifically authorized collection against that number; if a number already on the list contacts a domestic number; or if a number specifically met the "reasonably believed to be associated with" standard because an analyst discovered it, tangibly, in some other database or through legal collection. NSA computers automatically checks incoming telephone records against the "alert list" numbers. (Domestic to domestic calls are excluded unless both numbers are on the alert list.) If a new telephone record includes a foreign telephone call to or from a number on an alert list, that fact is passed to the FBI and the CIA.
* Since people sometimes enter their credit card numbers through the phone, the bulk records collected by the NSA included, at times, credit card numbers associated with specific telephone numbers.
* The NSA asks analysts being trained to access metadata to list several activities which would be protected by the First Amendment and therefore illegal to collect.
* NSA analysts "see" approximately one out of every 4 million call records collected by the "BR FISA" telephone metadata program.
* The NSA allowed the Defense Intelligence Agency's Joint Interagency Task Force — Counterterrorism (JITF-CT) access to raw counter-terrorism related signals intelligence, including data collected under the restricted FISA programs. (The NSA has always provided the DIA with analyzed, finished reports, as well as curated streams of SIGINT, but not with access to its specific databases.)
* Another unknown entity was allowed access to unminimized — that is, raw — data from XKEYSCORE, the major NSA system that processes and analyzes collection of foreign intelligence. The NSA suspended this institution's access to the database after compliance issues were raised. The name of the entity provided access to the database is redacted.
* The NSA redacts the words "al Qaeda" from the beginning of this document — and from a paragraph classified with numerous caveats in the middle of it.
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