The Justice Department is withholding documents related to the bulk collection of Americans’ data from a transparency lawsuit launched by the American Civil Liberties Union.
US attorney Preet Bharara of the southern district of New York informed the ACLU in a Friday letter that the government would not turn over “certain other” records from a secret surveillance court, which are being “withheld in full” from a Freedom of Information Act suit the civil liberties group filed to shed light on bulk surveillance activities performed under the Patriot Act.
The decision to keep some of the records secret, in the thick of Edward Snowden’s revelations, has raised suspicions within the ACLU that the government continues to hide bulk surveillance activities from the public, despite US president Barack Obama’s Friday concession that controversial National Security Agency programs have “never been subject to vigorous public debate”.
The ACLU lawsuit, like others filed by civil liberties groups, has resulted in a trove of documents (1) (2) from the so-called FISA court detailing the scope, authorizations and, in some cases, violations surrounding NSA surveillance ostensibly occurring under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. The director of national intelligence now posts the released documents to a Tumblr page, usually without revealing that the disclosures were spurred by lawsuits.
The latest such disclosure happened Friday with the release of 24 documents, mostly detailing FISA court reauthorizations of the bulk phone records collection first reported by the Guardian thanks to leaks from whistleblower Snowden.
Bhahara said that Friday’s release will be the last disclosure under the terms of the ACLU’s lawsuit.
Alexander Abdo, an ACLU attorney, noted that the government’s bulk surveillance disclosures have yet to include, among other efforts, a reported CIA program to collect international money transfers in bulk, revealed in November by the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.
“It appears that the government is concealing the existence of other bulk collection programs under the Patriot Act, such as the CIA’s reported collection of our financial records,” Abdo said.
— Alex Abdo (@AlexanderAbdo) January 21, 2014
Bharara’s office routed a request for comment back through the Justice Department, which declined to elaborate on the 17 January letter.
Of particular note, though, they seem to be withholding the BR 09-15 primary order, which was right in the middle of PATRIOT reauthorization, when NSA kept disseminating results in violation of Reggie Walton’s orders.
The Phone Metadata Program Metadata
1. Howard, Malcom BR 06-05 (5/24/06)
2. Howard, Malcom BR 06-08 (8/18/06)
3. Scullin, Frederick, BR 06-12 (11/15/06)
4. Broomfield, Robert, BR 07-04 (2/02/07)
5. Gorton, Nathaniel, BR 07-10 (3/03/07)
6. Gorton, Nathaniel, BR 07-14 (7/23/07)
7. Vinson, Roger, BR 07-16 (10/18/07)
8. Howard, Malcom, BR 08-01 (1/?/08)
9. Kollar-Kotelly, Colleen, BR 08-04 (4/3/08)
10. Zagel, James, BR 08-07 (6/26/08)
11. Zagel, James, BR 08-08 (8/19/08)
12. Walton, Reggie, BR 08-13 (12/12/08)
13. Walton, Reggie, BR 09-01 (3/5/09)
14. Walton, Reggie, BR 09-06 (5/29/09)
15. Walton, Reggie (?) BR 09-09 (7/8/09) [see also]
16. Walton, Reggie, BR 09-13 (9/3/09)
17. Walton, Reggie (?) BR 09-15 (10/30/09) [see also]
18. Walton, Reggie (?) BR 09-19 [see also]
19. Walton, Reggie, BR 10-10 (2/26/10)
20. Walton, Reggie, BR 10-17 (5/14/10)
21. Walton, Reggie, BR 10-49 (8/04/10)
22. Walton, Reggie, BR 10-70 (10/29/10)
23. Bates, John, BR, 11-07 (1/20/11)
24. Feldman, Martin, BR 11-57 (4/13/11)
25. Bates, John, BR 11-107 (6/22/11)
26. BR-11-191 10/11? [see also]
31. Vinson, Roger, BR 13-80, (4/25/13)
32. Eagan, Claire, BR 13-109, (7/18/13)
33. McLaughlin, Mary, BR 13-158 (10/11/13)
There is one more missing primary order. In an NSA declaration dated November 12, SID Director Theresa Shea said there had been 34 approvals. As shown above, the McLaughlin order is the 33rd of identified orders.