Transparency theater: Administration takes questions on NSA docs it hasn’t released yet

August 21, 2013

Director of National Intelligence and finger wagger James Clapper. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Wednesday afternoon, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) did a 45-minute press call about documents showing the NSA illegally collected thousands of e-mails of American citizens over a period of three years.

One problem: The office hadn't released the documents yet. And officials wouldn't answer questions about other topics, such as Tuesday's revelations by the Wall Street Journal about the scope of NSA surveillance.

The documents slated to be released include the 2011 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court opinion that ended the illegal surveillance, a summary of how the NSA changed its collection protocols after the decision, and a semi-annual compliance assessment. The FISA Court opinion was set to be released pursuant to an Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Freedom of Information (FOIA) request.

Despite assurances that the documents would reveal that it was "a technological problem" not "egregious overreaching by a greedy agency," they were not available to press on the call for review before the call, although a select group of journalists were briefed on the information beforehand.

ODNI repeatedly refused to answer questions about anything other than the documents and the issues raised by the agency on the background call. There were a number of questions about the Wall Street Journal report saying the agency had the ability to collect 75 percent of domestic Internet traffic, but Obama administration officials refused to answer those queries.

As of the time of this posting, the documents are still not up on the government's Web site, although the Electronic Frontier Foundation has posted the 2011 FISA Court opinion.

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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