Guardian account of NSA program XKeyScore misleading, officials say
Top congressional officials insisted Thursday that the latest NSA program disclosed through a leak by former contractor Edward Snowden is an analysis tool aimed at intercepted foreign Internet content, not a way for intelligence analysts to spy on Americans from a computer terminal.
XKeyScore, revealed in a Guardian newspaper story Wednesday, uses “markers to look at someone and say, ‘yes they are a suspect or no they are not a suspect,’” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a brief interview Thursday.
It is “primarily an analysis program, not a collection program that is focused outside the United States, not on Americans,” said David Grannis, staff director for the intelligence committee. “One of the charts that was released yesterday actually has a drop-down menu that says how the analyst has to select how the person is outside the United States before you could actually use this tool.”
Those menu includes choices such as “Foreign govt indicates that the person is located outside the U.S.” and “The person is a user of storage media seized outside the U.S.”
Many critics have expressed skepticism that those safeguards are meaningful, and they worry that the NSA is using the tool to monitor Americans when it suits intelligence analysts or that the agency could do so in the future. Former NSA officials say there is significant oversight to prevent that from happening.
According to documents leaked to the Guardian that have not been disputed, XKeyScore allows NSA analysts to search a vast quantity of both content and metadata that the agency collects around the world.
The story said the program shed light on Snowden’s remark to the Guardian that, “I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal e-mail.”
Feinstein said, “I am not a high-tech techie, but I have been told that is not possible.”
Feinstein’s comments follow those of Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), chairman and ranking member of the House intelligence committee.
“The program does not target American citizens,” they said in a statement Wednesday. “Further, the program referenced in the story is not used for indiscriminate monitoring of the Internet, as many falsely believe. Rather, the program is simply a tool used by our intelligence analysts to better understand foreign intelligence, including terrorist targets overseas.”
“Finally, the story also once again ignores the legal constraints, comprehensive training, and layers of oversight built into all NSA programs. Every search on the program by an NSA analyst is fully auditable to ensure it is done within the law.”
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