US intel chief defends Internet spy programs

US intel chief defends Internet spy programs

WASHINGTON - Agence France-Presse
US intel chief defends Internet spy programs

Director of National Intelligence James. AFP photo

The United States’ top intelligence official angrily defended his government’s secret monitoring of Internet users June 8, insisting the vast operation is both legal and vital to national security.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper confirmed that U.S. spy agencies use a system called “PRISM” to gather data trails left by targeted foreign citizens using the Internet outside the United States.

But he said reports by The Guardian and The Washington Post, based on leaked documents, failed to put the program in context, and insisted PRISM is overseen by a secret court under laws approved by the U.S. Congress.

“Over the last week we have seen reckless disclosures of intelligence community measures used to keep Americans safe,” Clapper said, dubbing PRISM “one of our most important tools for the protection of the nation’s security.” “PRISM is not an undisclosed collection or data mining program,” he said.

“It is an internal government computer system to facilitate the government’s statutorily authorized collection of foreign intelligence information from electronic communication service providers under court supervision.”

Possibility of ‘legal action’

President Barack Obama’s national security spokesman Ben Rhodes said the administration was investigating whether the leak had put Americans or U.S. interests in danger, implying that legal action may be considered. “What we’re focused on doing right now... is frankly doing an assessment of the damage that’s been done to the national security of the United States by the revelations of this information,” he said.

The initial press reports that revealed the secret program suggested the NSA had some form of back door access to the servers of firms including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, AOL, Skype, Apple, PalTalk and YouTube.

But Clapper’s statement described a system whereby the government must apply to a secret U.S. court for permission to target individuals or entities then issue a request to the service provider. “The government cannot target anyone under the court approved procedures... unless there is an appropriate, and documented, foreign intelligence purpose for the acquisition,” Clapper said.

Such a purpose, he continued, could be “the prevention of terrorism, hostile cyber activities or nuclear proliferation.” He admitted that data on US citizens might be “incidentally intercepted” in the course of targeting a foreign national, but said this would not normally be shared within the intelligence community unless it confirmed a threat.