US lawmakers assembling secret ‘encyclopedia of spying’

Reuters / Jim Young

Reuters / Jim Young

In an effort to keep track of the US government’s sprawling spy efforts, a Senate oversight committee has been compiling a ‘secret encyclopedia’ of surveillance programs ever since the 2013 Snowden revelations.

Begun under former Senate Intelligence Committee chair Diane
Feinstein (D-CA) in 2013, the program continued after the
Republicans took control of the committee in January, AP
reported, citing several Senate staffers who spoke on condition
of anonymity.

We’re trying right now to look at every intelligence
,” Feinstein told AP. “There are hundreds of
programs we have found … sprinkled all over. Many people in the
departments don’t even know (they) are going on

AP reported that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper
has joked that only one entity had full knowledge of all the US
government’s spying programs – “That’s God.”

More: NSA holds info over US citizens like loaded gun, but says
‘trust me’ – Snowden

The current committee chair, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) did not
comment, but his spokeswoman, Rebecca Glover Watkins, told AP in
an email that the committee was “constantly and continuously
engaged in oversight of intelligence community activities

It was the revelation that the US eavesdropped on allies, such as
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, that prompted Feinstein and
other lawmakers to inquire about surveillance programs. President
Obama ordered his own review of NSA surveillance at the time,
reportedly stopping “some eavesdropping on the leaders of
certain unidentified friendly countries
,” AP reported.

Lawmakers said they were fully briefed about the programs NSA
whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed in 2013, including the
collection of Americans’ phone records and the PRISM program that
has targeted foreign nationals through accounts with US tech
companies such as Yahoo, Google and Microsoft.

However, Feinstein said that even the executive branch had
trouble keeping track of all the surveillance programs under
Executive Order 12333, which authorized foreign intelligence
collection overseas without a court order. Some of the programs
are so secret, only a few people are privy to their details.

Read More:
Senate accuses CIA of torturing prisoners, overstepping legal

The committee’s oversight efforts resulted in the 6,000-page
report about CIA’s secret torture program. Its 480-page executive
summary was released in December 2014. Feinstein said at the time
that the agency’s practices undermined “societal and
constitutional values that we are very proud of

The project to compile the overview of spy efforts is currently
entirely a congressional affair, and should wrap up by September,
Senate aides told AP. While the idea is for lawmakers to maintain
and access information on the spy programs, they are trying to
avoid creating a single document that would amount to a roadmap
of US surveillance. Officials have said that having such a file
in Senate custody would be too risky. Details of the project are

If the senators have objections to any surveillance programs,
they can bring up the issue in secret with the White House, and
use their influence over legislation, budgets and nominations to
press for any changes.

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