Newly declassified documents from 2014 reveal the CIA intercepted sensitive emails from U.S. citizens to Congress regarding whistleblowers reporting alleged wrongdoing within the Intelligence Community.
Noting the CIA “has been spying on Americans for decades,” investigative reporter Sheryl Attkisson wrote in an op-ed for the Hill that it’s the latest example of “widespread surveillance on U.S. soil of citizens who aren’t suspected of terrorism or being a spy.”
The March 2014 intercepts were conducted under the leadership of CIA Director John Brennan and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Attkisson pointed out.
It happened, she says, amid what’s widely referred to as “the Obama administration’s war on whistleblowers and mass surveillance scandals.”
Attkisson cites two letters of “congressional notification” from the Intelligence Community inspector general at the time, Charles McCullough.
The IG found that during “routine counterintelligence monitoring of government computer systems,” the CIA collected emails between congressional staff and the CIA’s head of whistleblowing and source protection.
McCullough expressed concerned about the CIA’s “potential compromise to whistleblower confidentiality and the consequent ‘chilling effect’ that the present [counterintelligence] monitoring system might have on Intelligence Community whistleblowing.”
“Most of these emails concerned pending and developing whistleblower complaints,” McCullough stated in the letters to lead Democrats and Republicans at the time on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.
The Democrats were Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland. The Republicans were Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan.
Attkisson explained that the CIA says it has been limited since the 1970s to collecting intelligence “only for an authorized intelligence purpose,” such as suspected engagement in international terrorist activities.
And senior approval for any such collection is required.
But the CIA justifies the spying by arguing it must engage in “routine counterintelligence monitoring of government computers” to keep an eye on certain employees.
That means many U.S. citizens and their communications can be swept into the dragnet, Attkisson explains.
The spying was revealed, she points out, because staffers of Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, were among those spied on.
It took four years, however, to get the congressional notifications declassified, the senator said, due to resistance from Clapper and Brennan.
And Grassley said their successors in the Trump administration were no more responsive.
The material finally was declassified when Grassley appealed to current Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson.
Grassley said the “fact that the CIA under the Obama administration was reading congressional staff’s emails about Intelligence Community whistleblowers raises serious policy concerns, as well as potential constitutional separation-of-powers issues that must be discussed publicly.”
Attkisson concludes the evidence “points to bad actors targeting candidate Donald Trump and his associates in part to keep them — and us — from learning about and digging into an even bigger scandal: our Intelligence Community increasingly spying on its own citizens, journalists, members of Congress and political enemies for the better part of two decades, if not longer.”