DOJ report sheds light on FBI’s role in overseeing NSA's PRISM surveillance

A declassified Justice Department report shows that the FBI conducts oversight on the NSA's PRISM email surveillance program. Since 2009, the FBI has been 'retaining copies of unprocessed communication gathered without a warrant to analyze for its own purposes.' Regarding surveillance, Attorney General Holder spoke about monitoring homegrown terrorists and prosecuting former CIA Director Petraeus for pillow talk.

PRISM
Credit: Robbert van der Steeg

When you think about the PRISM warrantless surveillance program, then the NSA probably pops to mind, but the power to review emails accounts the NSA wanted to collect through PRISM was passed to the FBI in 2008.

The FBI, according to a declassified Justice Department report, reviewed NSA's PRISM selectors for foreignness – to insure that emails and calls by U.S. citizens are not collected. Any users overseas were presumed to be foreign, not communications of Americans. Former FBI General Counsel Valeria Caproni said there was “no reason to presume that the NSA is not upholding its constitutional duty” regarding Americans, “or otherwise violating the FAA or its own FISA Court-approved targeting procedures.” The heavily redacted 231-page report was obtained by New York Times via a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

In October 2009, the FBI requested for “raw 702-acquired data to be dual-routed to the FBI;” that means the agency “started retaining copies of unprocessed communication gathered without a warrant to analyze for its own purposes,” wrote Times’ reporter Charlie Savage. Then “in April 2012, the bureau began nominating new email accounts and phone numbers belonging to foreigners for collection, including through the NSA’s ‘upstream’ system, which collects communication transiting network switches.”

Inspector General Michael Horowitz praised the FBI’s 702 team for its targeting procedures, but there was some “gap in procedures” that Caproni called a “mistake.” It’s unclear exactly what that mistake was as the report is heavily censored. In fact, there was only one unredacted reference to PRISM despite the program’s name and details being declassified in July 2014 by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. The New York Times might "challenge the redactions at a later stage."

Attorney General Holder on monitoring homegrown terrorists 

Meanwhile, on Face the Nation, Attorney General Eric Holder said the U.S. made a pledge to the French to “do a better job of sharing information amongst the nations that were there.” Holder met with other law enforcement agencies in Paris in wake of the attack on the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo. He said the U.S. will share with French intelligence “all the information that we have to help them in that analysis.”

Holder also said the U.S. does “a good job in monitoring” homegrown terrorists. Holder added:

And when I say monitoring, I mean monitoring in an appropriate way, using legitimate tools. We're not stereotyping anybody, but we're focused on those people who we have some reason to believe might engage in these kinds of activities. And I think that our FBI, in conjunction with our intelligence community, and in conjunction with our state and local partners, I think we do a good job in keeping abreast of what these people are talking about and potentially what it is that they are planning.

As an example of that monitoring for terrorist threats, John Miller, NYPD Deputy Commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, said there’s “more than 1,000 police officers and civilian analysts who are pointed at the counterterrorism mission every day.”

Lastly, Face the Nation’s Bob Schieffer mentioned that FBI and federal prosecutors want to slam former CIA Director David Petraeus for pillow talk – for passing classified info to his former mistress and biographer Paula Broadwell. You may recall that the FBI discovered Petraeus and Broadwell relied on a strategy previously used by terrorists; they shared a Gmail account and communicated via saved drafts without actually sending emails to each other from the dummy account. Holder did not want to comment upon an ongoing investigation, but suggested that the “highest levels of the Justice Department” will decide “what, if any action should occur.”

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