Just hours after President Obama laid out changes to the nation's surveillance practices, his administration on Friday evening released more once-secret national security documents – this time on the origins and approval of the controversial bulk telephone data collection program.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said he released the documents in response to Obama's directive to declassify and make public as much information as possible about the government's sensitive surveillance program over the last six months. The documents can be found on the Office of the DNI's website.
Obama issued that order in response to an international firestorm over the sweeping nature of the nation's spying that kicked up last summer when former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden began disclosing details of the surveillance programs.
In his speech Friday morning, Obama said the NSA will need approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court each time it searches the trove of phone data. Under the current system, cleared NSA analysts have had ready access to the phone records in an online archive since 2006 when the court first approved the FBI's request to begin the bulk phone records collection.
Obama also said the government should no longer be in the business of storing the metadata but that it would continue to do so until the administration and Congress develops a concrete blueprint.
The president asked Attorney General Eric Holder to report back to him by March 28 with a plan to have a non-government entity store the metadata. However, Congress will have the ultimate say on where the trove of data is housed.
An outside panel appointed by Obama had recommended that either telephone companies or a third party immediately store the data. However, the president balked at that proposal, noting resistance from the telecommunications industry.
The latest declassification and release of intelligence agency records brings the total of documents made public to 2,300 pages, including orders and opinions of the FISC and pleadings before it, documents the intelligence community provided to Congress, training slides and other internal memos describing the legal basis for the programs and how they operate.
Clapper also has released 400 pages of documents detailing the phone data collection first authorized by President George W. Bush.
“These documents were properly classified, and their declassification was not done lightly,” Clapper said in a statement. "Their releases reflect the executive branch's continued commitment to make information about the implementation of [intelligence laws allowing bulk collection of emails and phone data] publicly available when appropriate, while ensuring the protection of the national security of the United States.”
“Because these documents include discussion of matters that must remain classified so as to protect national security, it was necessary to redact some information from them,” he added.
One of the documents, dated Aug. 18, 2006, details how the FISC court approved a request from then-FBI Director Robert Mueller for “all call-detail records” or “telephony meta data.”
In the document approving the metadata collection program, the court said the data requested includes “comprehensive routing information, including but not limited to session identifying information (e.g., originating and terminating telephone number, communications device identifier, etc.), trunk identifier, telephone calling card numbers and time and duration of call.” It also specifies that the data will not include “substantive content of any communication” or the name, address or financial information of a subscriber or customer.
The document says the NSA shall compensate the providers of the data – presumably telecom companies, although those words are redacted – for “reasonable expenses incurred” in granting the agency access to the data.
It also directs the head of the NSA to establish mandatory procedures to “strictly control” access to the stored data and details some of the safeguards and limits it requires, although some of the section is redacted. It also says that the phone data collected may be kept online to be accessible for cleared analysts but must be destroyed after five years.
“Although the data collected under this order will necessarily be broad, the use of that information for analysis shall be strictly tailored to identifying terrorist communications and shall occur solely according to the procedures described in the application,” the document states.
The rest of the documents Clapper released Friday are renewals, supplements or amendments to the original FBI request, which the court approved every few months from 2006 to 2011.
In a supplemental order, dated April 13, 2011, the FISA court ordered the NSA to include in reports the agency is required to submit every 30 days a “discussion of NSA's consideration, and, to the extent feasible, implementation of methods of purging the credit card information” obtained in the collection of the metadata.