WATCH| News organization requests Trump declassify data on NSA unmasking of Americans.
Circa has formally requested that the Trump administration declassify records showing how often government officials have searched National Security Agency intercepts for intelligence on U.S. presidential candidates, members of Congress, journalists, clergy, lawyers, federal judges and doctors and how often such Americans had their identities unmasked by the intelligence community after Barack Obama made it easier to do so in 2011.
Sen. Rand Paul cited Circa's reporting about wiretapping, NSA intercept claims.
Sen. Paul (R-KY) on Friday said he's formally requested info from the White House.
The request follows anexclusive Circa report on Wednesday that revealed that the Obama administration conducted more than 35,000 searches on NSA intercepts seeking information about Americans during the divisive 2016 election year.
“The law makes President Trump the ultimate declassifying authority, and we believe the president can answer many troubling questions by declassifying this information, including how often First Amendment protected professionals had their privacy impacted by NSA intercepts and
why some of Trump’s own aides were unmasked in NSA data by the prior White House,” said John Solomon, the chief operating officer of Circa and the author of Wednesday’s story.
The NSA is allowed under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to spy on foreign powers without a court warrant but the law prohibits the targeting of Americans for such surveillance. If the NSA accidentally intercepts Americans or information about them overseas, it is supposed to legally put the information in a virtual lock box.
But starting in 2011, former President Obama made it easier to access that information, essentially creating keys for intelligence professionals and even his own political aides to unlock the NSA’s lock box to consume surveillance on Americans.
Circa reported Wednesday that since those changes, the number of requests to search NSA records for Americans’ information tripled under the former administration.
Circa’s declassification request was delivered to the White House and the Directorate of National Intelligence. Ironically, it cites an executive order that Obama himself issued allowing Americans to make declassification requests and get an answer within a year.
Circa request aggregate numbers by year for searches on the names of or requests to unmasks Americans who worked as presidential candidates, members of Congress, congressional staff, federal judges, journalists, clergy, lawyers, and doctors.
“We believe these aggregate numbers by year and category pose no risk to national security and will provide significant illumination to the public about the frequency of unmasked or searched U.S. person identities who were either intercepted or the subject of intercepted conversations,” Circa wrote.
“Such transparency is particularly valuable given the changes to unmasking rules that former President Barack Obama began implementing in 2011 and the special recognition the 2014 revision of minimization rules gave these categories of Americans."
The American Civil Liberties Union and influential senators like Rand Paul, R-Ky., Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., have for years raised concerns about how often and why the U.S. government accesses surveillance data on Americans without getting a court warrant.
The ODNI data made public this week in the Circa story provides the most detailed accounting to date of how often the NSA data is being tapped for intelligence on Americans. But civil liberty experts believe far more transparency is needed to guard against abuses.
“When we think about our constitution, the right to privacy and a right to be free from surveillance is very much a part of that,” said Neema Singh Guliani, the ACLU’s legislative counsel. “It the right for people to feel like they can speak freely without a government agent peering over their shoulder.”