U.S. President Barack Obama gave the National Security Agency (NSA) the green light to stockpile data detailing the calling records and e-mail and Internet usage of its own citizens, a new 57-page top-secret document obtained by The Washington Post reveals.
The program was started in October 2001 — just one month after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — under George W. Bush’s administration and continued under Obama through 2011.
According to the report, American telephone companies offered the NSA access to their calling records following 9/11, but the agency was legally unable to accept the data until Bush gave the go-ahead on Oct. 4, 2011.
According to the document, the “memorandum was based on the President’s determination that after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, an extraordinary emergency existed for national defense purposes.”
The authorization allowed the NSA to acquire telephone and Internet content and metadata if there was probable cause to believe one of the communicants was in anyway involved in terrorist activity. The NSA was also allowed to “retain, process, analyze and disseminate intelligence” from the communications.
While the many of the telephone companies volunteered their data, the NSA had to cultivate a group of “private sector partners,” such as Internet service providers and Web services.
As part of the program, a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) judge would sanction bulk collection of data “every 90 days.”
According to the documentation, provided by former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden, 60 different lawmakers were briefed on the surveillance program known as the President’s Surveillance Program (PSP).
The PSP was engineered primarily by former vice-president Dick Cheney and Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of the NSA.
While the Internet metadata program was discontinued two years ago, documents obtained by U.K. newspaper The Guardian earlier this month revealed the NSA — armed with a court order from FISC that is renewed every 90 days — gathers the call records of millions of American Verizon customers. Other wireless carriers also receive orders to hand over their telephone data.