National Security Agency analysts are given a lot of leeway with regard to determining who they should target for surveillance, according to two recently published documents. Obtained by The Guardian, the documents indicated that unless there was "specific information'' that a target was an American, and their location was unknown, that person would be "presumed a non-U.S. citizen'' and subject to surveillance.
A transcript from the NSA's general counsel outlines how much discretion NSA analysts possess when it comes to the specifics of targeting.
"Once again, the standard here is a reasonable belief that your target is outside the United States. What does that mean when you get information that might lead you to believe the contrary? It means you can't ignore it. You can't turn a blind eye to somebody saying, 'Hey, I think so and so is in the United States.' You can't ignore that. Does it mean you have to completely turn off collection the minute you hear that? No, it means you have to do some sort of investigation: 'Is that guy right? Is my target here?"
"But, if everything else you have says 'no' (he talked yesterday, I saw him on TV yesterday, even, depending on the target, he was in Baghdad) you can still continue targeting but you have to keep that in mind. You can't put it aside. You have to investigate it and, once again, with that new information in mind, what is your reasonable belief about your target's location?"
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The second document says that government officials can retain communications by U.S. citizens that are inadvertently intercepted if the material contains "foreign intelligence'' or "evidence of crime.''
Both documents published by the London newspaper are dated July 29, 2009, USA Today reported.
The Guardian previously revealed details about a government program that collects the telephone records of U.S. citizens for use in terror investigations.
Civil liberties groups have spoken out against the NSA.
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"Collectively, these documents show ... that the legal framework under which the NSA operates is far too feeble, that existing oversight mechanisms are ineffective, and that the government's surveillance policies now present a serious and ongoing threat to our constitutional rights,'' said ACLU staff attorney, Alex Abdo. "The release of these documents will help inform a crucial public debate that should have taken place years ago."