How many queries US Intelligence agencies made to Section 702 content data in 2013?

Pierluigi Paganini July 02, 2014

A letter revealed that all the US Intelligence agencies have queried the Section 702 communications content for US persons in 2013.

The Snowden case has caused an earthquake in the US intelligence, it is changing the way the principal US agencies are informing citizens of the some of the operation their ordinary conduct to ensure the Homeland security. According the latest data leaked in the US Intelligence community, in 2013 the NSA wasn’t the unique agency to query Section 702 communications content for US persons, CIA and FBI were also very active in the surveillance operation. While the NSA conducted nearly 200 queries on Section 702 communications content during last year, the number of queries made by CIA agents is nearly 10 times and the number of queries from FBI is not known exactly but anyway it is expectable that the number of queries is also significant.

The NSA also submitted around 9,500 metadata queries for the communications of US persons in 2013, meanwhile the CIA made 1,900 queries on Section 702 “using specific U.S. person identifiers” in 2013.

Thousands of US citizens were targets of so-called “backdoor” warrantless surveillance by the US intelligence agencies, according to a letter sent to Senator Ron Wyden and written by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI)  in response to a question, about Section 702 collection and queries, formulated earlier this month.

Section 702

The ODNI replied in its letter that “collection under Section 702 is not bulk collection, but is targeted collection based on specific identifiers.

“While intelligence officials have often argued that it is impossible to estimate how many Americans’ communications are getting swept up by the government under Section 702, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has noted that the NSA acquires more than two hundred and fifty million Internet communications every year using Section 702, so even if US communications make up a small fraction of that total, the number of U.S. communications being collected is potentially quite large.” “The FBI does not track how many queries it conducts using U.S. person identifiers,” the letter says.

Wyden is known in the US intelligence as one of more skeptic political on the operation conducted by US agencies, the senator requested for specific numbers on the volume of queries using US person identifiers of communications collected under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is used by US government to collect information on foreign targets that are “reasonably believed to be outside of the U.S. at the time of collection.” It is important to specify that it can’t target US persons.

“[w]hen the FBI says it conducts a substantial number of searches and it has no idea of what the number is, it shows how flawed this system is and the consequences of inadequate oversight.” commented Wyden.

According to many experts, the Section 702 is an important component of the NSA metadata collection program,  it used to collect a massive amounts of telephone metadata from providers as explained by Edward Snowden. Data archived could be queried by the US Intelligence agencies using search terms to find the communications of Americans.

The letter is another evidence that the US Intelligence agencies are able to search and read the content of the communications of Americans in compliance to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs –  Section 702,  US Intelligence)

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