President Obama, appearing Friday for his first news conference in more than three months, will no doubt be fielding tough questions on a new round of revelations regarding the NSA's top-secret electronic surveillance programs.
Earlier this week, Obama, appearing on The Tonight Show, denied that the U.S. runs "a domestic spying program," saying, however: "What we do have are some mechanisms where we can track a phone number or an email address that we know is connected to some sort of terrorist threat," he said.
In the past few days, The New York Times and The Guardian have published stories detailing the extent to which the National Security Agency is authorized to search key names, user names, email addresses and Internet Protocol addresses connected to Americans' emails.
On Thursday, The Times reported that:
"The National Security Agency is searching the contents of vast amounts of Americans' e-mail and text communications into and out of the country, hunting for people who mention information about foreigners under surveillance, according to intelligence officials."
The surveillance was authorized by a 2008 law, the FISA Amendments Act, "in which Congress approved eavesdropping on domestic soil without warrants as long as the 'target' was a noncitizen abroad. Voice communications are not included in that surveillance," the paper said, quoting an unnamed senior official.
On Friday, The Guardian — which has been the source of several reports based on former NSA contractor turned leaker Edward Snowden — elaborates on the email surveillance, saying a "glossary document" issued to operatives in the NSA's Special Operations Division, which runs the Prism program, authorizes searches of email and text of "both American citizens and foreigners located in the U.S."
Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, approved on Oct. 3, 2011, allows "for use of certain United States person names and identifiers as query terms when reviewing" collected data, The Guardian says, quoting from the glossary, which nonetheless warns: "analysts may NOT/NOT [not repeat not] implement any USP [U.S. persons] queries until an effective oversight process has been developed by NSA and agreed to by DOJ/ODNI [Department of Justice/Office of the Director of National Intelligence]."
The document, which the newspaper says appeared to have been last updated in June 2012, doesn't say if the oversight process was ever developed or approved.