Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper famously (or infamously) told Congress the National Security Agency did not “wittingly” collect data on Americans. That turned out to be false.
More recently, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked the current director of national intelligence, Dan Coats whether the government could use Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act “to collect communications it knows are entirely domestic.”
“Not to my knowledge. That would be illegal,” Coats responded.
However, a subsequent letter from Coats’ office to Wyden’s office suggests the director’s answer was incomplete. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence clarified that “section 702(b)(4) plainly states we ‘may not intentionally acquire any communication as to which the sender and all intended recipients are known at the time of acquisition to be located in the United States.’ The DNI interpreted Senator Wyden’s question to ask about this provision and answered accordingly.”
Wyden has since gone on recordwith his contention that the DNI did not answer his question, requesting the office provide a public response. The exchange offers insight into how intelligence agencies use semantics to obfuscate their activities, while also illustrating the frustration many privacy advocates and lawmakers encounter in the search for Section 702 surveillance transparency.