NSA OFFICIAL ADMITS: Yes, your cellphone wasn't safe
Agency was capable of sweeping surveillance of the nation's cell phones
One more indignity for the American public: the National Security Agency has since admitted it once tested whether it could track Americans' cellphone locations, in addition to its practice of sweeping broad information about calls made. NSA Chief Gen. Keith Alexander admitted this last week.
Alexander, along with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, pictured, testified at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
Alexander denied a New York Times report that claimed that NSA searched social networks of Americans for foreign terror connections. The newspaper article, published last weekend, also revealed 12 cases of abuse by NSA employees who used the network for unsanctioned missions - such as spying on a wife, husband or significant other. Alexander said all employees were caught and that most were disciplined.
Alexander and Clapper also said that the government shutdown that began last week over a budget impasse is seriously damaging the intelligence community's ability to guard against threats.
The men said they're keeping counter-terrorism staff at work as well as those providing intelligence to troops in Afghanistan, but that some 70 percent of the civilian workforce has been furloughed.
Congress is considering changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that some believe allows the NSA too much freedom in gathering U.S. data as part of spying on targets overseas.
Alexander also admitted that the agency once tested, in 2010 and 2011, whether it could track Americans' cellphone locations, but he says the NSA does not use that capability, leaving that to the FBI to build a criminal or foreign intelligence case against a suspect and track him.
"This may be something that is a future requirement for the country but it is not right now because when we identify a number, we give it to the FBI," Alexander said. "When they get their probable cause, they can get the locational data."
Alexander refused to answer questions last week from Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), about whether his agency had ever collected or planned to collect such "cell-site" data, as it is called, saying it was classified. The general did say that the NSA released the information in letters to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees ahead of the Judiciary Committee meeting Wednesday.
Wyden wasn't satisfied with Alexander's reply. "After years of stonewalling on whether the government has ever tracked or planned to track the location of law abiding Americans through their cellphones, once again, the intelligence leadership has decided to leave most of the real story secret - even when the truth would not compromise national security," he said.
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