A top- secret National Security Agency document, leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden, reveals that the government agency is intent on maintaining its dominance in intelligence collection and has pledged to expand upon those powers.
The New York Times reports, "In a February 2012 paper laying out the four-year strategy for the N.S.A.’s signals intelligence [Sigint] operations, which include the agency’s eavesdropping and communications data collection around the world, agency officials set an objective to ‘aggressively pursue legal authorities and a policy framework mapped more fully to the information age.’"
The document also reveals the NSA’s apparent lack of regard for the Constitution and America’s laws, and states that the NSA feels current American laws are not sufficient to meet the needs of the agency to conduct broad surveillance in what the paper dubbed "the golden age of Sigint."
"The interpretation and guidelines for applying our authorities, and in some cases the authorities themselves, have not kept pace with the complexity of the technology and target environments, or the operational expectations levied on N.S.A.’s mission," the document expresses.
The NSA’s powers have ultimately been outlined by Congress, executive orders, and the secret intelligence court, and though the NSA’s powers have reached unimaginable levels, agency officials argue that they require more flexibility, the document shows.
When asked about this particular item in the document, agency officials issued a statement offering further explanation. "N.S.A.’s Sigint strategy is designed to guide investments in future capabilities and close gaps in current capabilities," the agency said. "In an ever-changing technology and telecommunications environment, N.S.A. tries to get in front of issues to better fulfill the foreign-intelligence requirements of the U.S. government."
Critics of the NSA have argued that the agency’s violation of constitutional and civil liberties are not outweighed by claims of allegedly successful anti-terrorism efforts. Skeptics contend that the agency’s assertions regarding its effectiveness in thwarting terrorist attacks have been grossly exaggerated.
Following revelations released by whistleblower and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden regarding the extent of domestic surveillance operations, the agency defended its actions by declaring that its domestic surveillance programs have been responsible for thwarting 54 "terrorist-related activities." However, skeptics including members of Congress have argued that the figure was drastically overstated.
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Photo of NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland