The US government’s top intelligence official, James Clapper Jr., admitted in a recent letter that the NSA and other agencies have searched through the emails and phone calls of American citizens . Clapper’s statement comes after months of refusing to confirm whether the activity had taken place.
The admission has led Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), to whom the letter was addressed, to condemn what he calls the NSA’s “ongoing intrusive surveillance practices.” In a joint statement with Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Wyden noted that the NSA’s surveillance program now clearly extends beyond the bulk collection of phone records and includes “warrantless searches of the content of Americans’ personal communications.”
The letter may also, however, signal a new approach by the government to get ahead of further NSA leaks, according to David Kennedy, a NSA analyst from 2000 to 2005 and the current president of TrustSec, an information security consultancy.
As Kennedy told Business Insider: “The government is terrified of what will happen if the rest of [Snowden’s] documents come out, so they’re trying to get ahead of the leaks and be proactive with revealing what they do. It’s a major shift in policy. They realise that if they are going to justify this to the American people, they’re going to have to be more open and transparent about it. It’s a game-changer. The letter is a knee-jerk reaction, because the government is scared of what will happen if more information comes out.”
Kennedy sees Clapper’s letter and Obama’s January speech on NSA surveillance as the first salvos in a public relations battle to resell the NSA programs to the American people. Rather than any real reform occurring, Kennedy sees the government finding “a different way to skin the same cat.”
“The NSA will see [any limits on surveillance] as relinquishing control and they don’t want to do that. They will just go in a different path that doesn’t get disclosed to the American people,” says Kennedy.
Here’s Clapper’s letter to Wyden:
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