CIA Releases New Rules for Collecting Information on Americans

By: Maria Pigna*| Staff Writer 

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On Wednesday, January 18, 2017, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) published in full, for the first time, revised rules for collecting, analyzing, and storing information on American citizens.  CIA General Counsel, Caroline Krass, told a briefing at the Agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia that the guidelines are designed “in a manner that protects the privacy and civil rights of the American people.”  The CIA refers to the rules as the revised Attorney General Guidelines and will become effective March 18, 2017, sixty days after they are signed by the Director of the CIA and the Attorney General. 

Historically, the CIA operates under a 1981 presidential order that is not overseen by the U.S. courts.  Although the CIA is typically known for spying outside the U.S., many have come to learn that the agency inadvertently collects information on Americans as well.  The agency was formally created in 1947 out of the World War II Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which was crafted in June of 1942 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  In 1946 President Harry S. Truman realized the need for a coordinated postwar intelligence establishment, so he went on to create a Central Intelligence Group and a National Intelligence Authority by executive order.  By 1947 Congress had passed the National Security Act creating the National Security Council (NSC), which gave direction to the CIA.  The CIA served as the advisor to the NSC on intelligence matters and the law established the CIA as the country’s preeminent intelligence service.

The release of these new guidelines dealt with consolidating and updating the CIA’s procedures that had not been updated since 1982.  Since then, the CIA has implemented a number of modifications to internal policies in order to address changing laws and new technology that was not contemplated in the 80s.  These new guidelines are claimed to be a more unified and comprehensive set of procedures that permit the CIA to use and share intelligence information to support national security objectives in a manner that protects the privacy rights and civil liberties of all Americans.  The changes made to guidelines were partly driven by legal reforms that were implemented as a result of the exposure of NSA (National Security Agency) activities in 2013 by Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor.

By and large, the revised guidelines touch upon topics such as protections for unevaluated information, restrictions on queries, exceptional handling requirements for electronic communications and other similarly sensitive information, limitations on undisclosed participation, and compliance and oversight.  Many of these modifications and their explanations have been set out in the CIA’s statement on the updated Executive Order 12333 Procedures and additionally provided in a PDF form on the Agency’s website.

Although these guideline revisions were consolidated and rewritten during several years of the Obama administration, the Trump administration could override the revisions and impose its own rules.  If this were to occur, the Trump administration would have to overcome the hurdles of the Obama administration’s decision to shift the espionage rules from a classified status to a public disclosure.  According to the Washington Post, President Trump and key members of his national security team have expressed their stance on expanding U.S. intelligence authorities that were restricted after the leak of U.S electronic surveillance by Snowden.  The news of the revised Attorney General Guidelines came just a few days before President Trump’s pick for CIA director, Mike Pompeo, was confirmed on January 23, 2017.  The CIA’s commitment to transparency, within its limits to protect our national security, proves to be a milestone for the agency and its continued pursuit of lawfully authorized activities.

Maria Pigna is a second year law student at Wake Forest University School of Law.  She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Spanish, and a minor in Public Leadership from the University of Florida.  Upon graduation, she intends to pursue a career in the area of corporate and international law.