Dem Sens. Flag CIA’s ‘Secret Bulk’ Surveillance Program In Eyebrow-Raising Statement

on June 2, 2015 in Washington, DC.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) head upstairs to talk with reporters after the passage of the USA FREEDOM Act at the U.S. Capitol on June 2, 2015. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM), who both sit on the Senate Intelligence Committee, made a surprising announcement late Thursday, releasing a statement saying that they had discovered the CIA had been running a “secret bulk collection program.”

The Democratic senators released a redacted letter they had sent to CIA Director William Burns and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines on April 13 last year regarding the program.

The CIA has “secretly conducted its own bulk program” under Executive Order 12333, according to the letter, and it has done so “entirely outside the statutory framework that Congress and the public believe govern this collection, and without any of the judicial, congressional or even executive branch oversight that comes with [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] collection.”

“This basic fact has been kept from the public and from Congress,” Wyden and Heinrich wrote.

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The Democratic lawmakers urged Burns and Haines to declassify information on the program.

The letter claimed that the Senate Intelligence Committee wasn’t aware of the CIA’s secret collection until the month before, when the agency turned over a report on it. An anonymous intelligence official told the New York Times that the committee did know about the program, just not the systems for storing and probing the data that was collected.

Wyden and Heinrich did not provide details on the program in the letter or their announcement on Thursday, such as who was being surveilled and what the full scope of the program was.

The CIA’s privacy and civil liberties officer, Kristi Scott, told the New York Times that the intelligence agency is “committed to transparency consistent with our obligation to protect intelligence sources and methods.”

“C.I.A. recognizes and takes very seriously our obligation to respect the privacy and civil liberties of U.S. persons in the conduct of our vital national security mission, and conducts our activities, including collection activities, in compliance with U.S. law, Executive Order 12333 and our attorney general guidelines,” she said.

Read the senators’ redacted letter below:

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