July 31, 2013

Wyden: Declassified Documents Show How Inaccurate Statements Have Misled Congress

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) issued the following statement regarding the declassified documents released by the Director of National Intelligence today:

 “The newly declassified briefing documents released today show that the executive branch repeatedly made inaccurate statements to Congress about the value and effectiveness of the bulk email records collection program that was carried out under the USA PATRIOT Act until 2011.  These statements had the effect of misleading members of Congress about the usefulness of this program.    

 The briefing documents that were provided to Congress in December 2009 and February 2011 clearly stated that both the bulk email records and bulk phone records collection programs were “unique in that they can produce intelligence not otherwise available to NSA.”  The 2009 briefing document went on to state that the two programs “provide a vital capability to the Intelligence Community,” and the 2011 briefing document stated that they provided “an important capability.” 

 Senator Mark Udall and I have long been concerned about the impact of bulk collection on Americans’ privacy and civil liberties, and we spent a significant portion of 2011 pressing the Intelligence Community to provide evidence to support the claims that they had made about the bulk email records program.  They were unable to do so, and the program was shut down due to a lack of operational value, as senior intelligence officials have now publicly confirmed. 

 This experience demonstrated that intelligence agencies’ assessments of the usefulness of particular collection programs – even significant ones – are not always accurate.  In particular, I continue to be skeptical of claims that the ongoing bulk phone records collection program provides the government with any unique value, as I have not yet seen any evidence to support this claim. 

 While I believe that releasing these documents is a welcome step toward greater openness and more informed debate about domestic surveillance programs, they are, in fact, further evidence of a pattern of misleading statements to Congress on this topic.  Similarly misleading statements about the bulk email records program were also made to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, though these statements unfortunately remain classified.”

 The newly declassified documents can be found here.