US asked that 1934 Americans' names be 'unmasked' in intel

Posted May 04, 2017

The National Security Agency (NSA) collected over 151 million phone records of Americans in 2016, despite a new system created by the US Congress to limit the spy agency's ability to gather bulk data, a report released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) revealed on 2 May. But communications companies can collect the data and the NSA still can access it for national security purposes. "At the top of the list is how many Americans' communications are being swept up".

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Yet, even though the NSA had only obtained warrants through the court for 42 terrorism suspects, the agency collected millions of records in 2016, the report says. Also revealed in the report was that the NSA only had warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court to track 42 terrorism suspects that year. Rather, the report is formulated on the use of specific identifiers for Americans, such as e-mail addresses, social media profiles and so on.

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Lawmakers have repeatedly asked US intelligence agencies to tell them how many Americans' emails and calls are vacuumed up by warrantless government surveillance programs created to collect information on foreign intelligence targets.

The report said the Federal Bureau of Investigation on one occasion in 2016 reviewed information about an American the NSA had collected under the surveillance program. The annual report comes just weeks after President Donald Trump accused former President Barack Obama's national security adviser of possibly committing a crime when she asked government analysts to disclose the names of Trump associates documented in intelligence reports.

Both Republican and Democratic members of the congressional intelligence committees have said so far they have found no evidence to support either allegation. That way, records are collected from any number that called or was called by the target number, together with the every number each of those numbers interacted with.

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They also noted the 151 million phone records were not all from unique numbers. According to the NSA, this change is "designed to retain the upstream collection that provides the greatest value to national security while reducing the likelihood that the NSA will acquire communications of USA persons or others who are not in direct contact with one of the Agency's foreign intelligence targets".

One observer of the USA intelligence community said the rise in targets - which hit 92,707 in 2014 and 94,368 in 2015 - might reflect an increasingly diverse gamut of adversaries rather than an intensification of surveillance.

'This year's report continues our trajectory toward greater transparency, providing additional statistics beyond what is required by law, ' said Office of the Director of National Intelligence spokesman Timothy Barrett.

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