ACLU has released several key documents about Executive Order 12333 that were obtained from the government in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that the ACLU filed (along with the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic at Yale Law School) just before the first revelations of Edward Snowden. The documents are from the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and others agencies. They confirm that the order, although not the focus of the public debate, actually governs most of the NSA’s spying.
It has been reported that some of the NSA’s biggest spying programs rely on the executive order, such as the NSA’s interception of internet traffic between Google’s and Yahoo!’s data centers abroad, the collection of millions of email and instant-message address books, the recording of the contents of every phone call made in at least two countries, and the mass cellphone location-tracking program.
Congress’s reform efforts have not addressed the executive order, and the bulk of the government’s disclosures in response to the Snowden revelations have conspicuously ignored the NSA’s extensive mandate under EO 12333.
The documents confirm suspicions that the NSA relies heavily on EO 12333 and that the order, therefore, deserves far more scrutiny than it has received. This vindicates those who’ve been warning us about the scope of the NSA’s surveillance activities under the executive order — including a former State Department official who has tried to draw attention to its wide-ranging uses.
Download all new EO 12333 documents released c/o ACLU’s FOIA here (ZIP/51MB)
- Here’s how NSA itself describes EO 12333 in an internal surveillance manual from 2007:
- Similar description of EO 12333 from NSA “Legal Fact Sheet,” produced exactly two weeks after the first Snowden disclosure:
- Slide from DIA presentation describes when agencies can collection information on Americans. (“USPs” refers to “U.S. persons,” which the government defines as American citizens or organizations, as well as legal residents):
- DIA “intelligence law handbook” acknowledges intelligence agencies’ “vocabulary of misdirection” — a language that allows it to say one thing while meaning quite another; a case study in Orwellian doublespeak:
- Frank discussion from author in DIA handbook re: several of the weighty questions surrounding scope of government’s surveillance authority: