NSA leak: US can spy on Americans, despite direct statements of President, Congress, top spooks

The Guardian has the latest of the Snowden/NSA leaks, detailing the semantic loophole exploited by the Agency in order to spy on the communications of Americans and people in the USA, something it is otherwise forbidden from doing. Since the initial Snowden leaks, President Obama, ranking Democrats (including Diane Feinstein), and NSA officials have made categorical statements denying that the NSA spies on Americans. These statements appear to be outright lies, as revealed by these revelations, and make me wonder if there are Hill rats looking up the procedures for impeachment at this very moment.

The revelations revolve around Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, whose wording contains enough ambiguity that the Agency has been able to interpret it as giving them authority to spy on Americans and people in America. As a foreigner in the UK (and thus liable to total, open, uncontroversial NSA surveillance), I extend my sympathy to my American sisters and brothers.

"While the FAA 702 minimization procedures approved on 3 October 2011 now allow for use of certain United States person names and identifiers as query terms when reviewing collected FAA 702 data," the glossary states, "analysts may NOT/NOT [not repeat not] implement any USP [US persons] queries until an effective oversight process has been developed by NSA and agreed to by DOJ/ODNI [Office of the Director of National Intelligence]."

The term "identifiers" is NSA jargon for information relating to an individual, such as telephone number, email address, IP address and username as well as their name.

The document – which is undated, though metadata suggests this version was last updated in June 2012 – does not say whether the oversight process it mentions has been established or whether any searches against US person names have taken place.

Wyden, an Oregon Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, has obliquely warned for months that the NSA's retention of Americans' communications incidentally collected and its ability to search through it has been far more extensive than intelligence officials have stated publicly. Speaking this week, Wyden told the Guardian it amounts to a "backdoor search" through Americans' communications data.

NSA loophole allows warrantless search for US citizens' emails and phone calls [James Ball and Spencer Ackerman/Guardian]