Nearly a decade into the War on Terror, the United States’ intelligence apparatus is in full swing–and not just the campaign to find and kill Osama Bin Laden. An April 29th letter from Assistant U.S. Attorney General Ronald Weich to Nevada Senator Harry Reid Attorney outlines the scope of foreign and domestic intelligence gathering by the Obama Administration in 2010.
In order to obtain a warrant for electronic surveillance for “foreign intelligence purposes,” the government must make a request to a specially assigned judge serving in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a civilian court in Washington D.C. This procedure was established by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to place some post-Watergate checks and balances on the government’s wiretapping activities (in 1972, President Richard Nixon authorized a break-in to the Democratic National Committee’s offices in the Watergate building, leading to a massive scandal, numerous indictments and Nixon’s resignation two years later).
Six years ago, the court was in the spotlight as a result of a New York Times expose. The investigation found that former President George W. Bush was ignoring the court and had authorized the National Security Agency to intercept the calls of an unknown number of Americans inside and outside the country.
The April 2010 report on intelligence gathering indicates Bush may have been avoiding the court for no reason. All 1,506 requests for eavesdropping presented to FISC in 2010 were approved. Every single one. Ninety-six requests for business records were also signed off on by the court.
Of equal interest is the number of National Security Letters, the secretive administrative subpoena created by the Patriot Act that permits authorities to request internet, business or financial records. The most controversial provision of National Security Letters bars the person who received one from talking about it, even to an attorney. In 2010, 24,287 National Security Letter Requests were served pertaining to records about 14,212 different people.
(Hat tip to Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News, who initially obtained the document.)