The Obama administration declassified a new batch of National Security Agency documents the same day the top Democratic senator on the intelligence committee vowed to conduct a top-to-bottom review of U.S. spying programs.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper Monday evening released a new set of documents, which date mostly to 2009 and appear to address the NSA's efforts to inform members of Congress about programs that collect call data on nearly every U.S. phone user.
Late Monday afternoon, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the chairwoman of the Intelligence panel, condemned NSA's surveillance of foreign leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Feinstein, who in the past has defended the surveillance programs as key to disrupting several terrorist plots, said she was “totally opposed” to the U.S. collection of information on leaders of U.S. allies - including France, Spain, Mexico and Germany.
Feinstein was reacting to a Monday morning report in the Wall Street Journal that said Obama didn't know that the NSA had spied on world leaders until this summer even though the surveillance began years earlier.
The documents Clapper released Monday include one from April 2011, which notifies the House and Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committee of the NSA's testing in 2010-11 of a program that started collecting metadata from cellular network call records. The document says the program is legal under guidelines for another existing program under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.
Bulk metadata includes the numbers called, date, time and length of the calls, but not the content.
A separate document from later in 2011, describes a change from collecting landline phone call information to collecting data on mobile devices. In a heavily redacted graph, the NSA says it analyzes this metadata to “discover and develop the networks and associations of known and suspected terrorists.”
Until the change, the memo said, the NSA had been collecting data on long-distance telephone calls to or from landlines either “between the U.S. and abroad” or “wholly within the U.S., including local telephone calls.”
The memo also said the new monitoring of cell phone metadata fell legally within the guidelines of another existing program under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Most of the documents dating to 2009 that Clapper released Monday provide evidence that the Section 215 surveillance program has helped U.S. intelligence agencies thwart terrorist plots and stress the need for members of Congress to keep the details of the program secret.
Details about the surveillance dragnet remained mostly secret until former NSA intelligence analyst Edward Snowden leaked details of the spying programs over the summer. Most lawmakers on the intelligence panels said they were surprised to learn about the extent of the 215 program.
But Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a member of the Intelligence committee, has been warning for more than two years that the NSA has been conducting a massive dragnet on phone and Internet records. He and Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., wrote a bill that would limit the federal government's ability to collect data on Americans without a demonstrated link to terrorism or espionage.
This story was first published at 10:11 p.m.