The CIA long ago stopped trying to hide the fact that it regularly spies on Americans without a warrant. Every once in a while, a few congresspeople will feign concern, and the CIA will issue a bland statement that it obeys the law. Usually, no one will be held to account. In particularly grevious instances of illegal domestic spying, the CIA might find a mid-level official willing to retire, who will get set up in a lucrative career as a lobbyist or influence peddler.
This time, Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico sent a heavily redacted letter to the Director of National Intelligence asking it about secret database of information collected about U.S. citizens, which is outside the CIA's purview.
There have long been concerns about what information the intelligence community collects domestically, driven in part by previous violations of Americans' civil liberties. The CIA and National Security Agency have a foreign mission and are generally barred from investigating Americans or U.S. businesses. But the spy agencies' sprawling collection of foreign communications often snares Americans' messages and data incidentally.
Intelligence agencies are required to take steps to protect U.S. information, including redacting the names of any Americans from reports unless they are deemed relevant to an investigation. The process of removing redactions is known as "unmasking."
The CIA dusted off some old boilerplate and responded in a statement:
CIA recognizes and takes very seriously our obligation to respect the privacy and civil liberties of U.S. persons in the conduct of our vital national security mission. CIA is committed to transparency consistent with our obligation to protect intelligence sources and methods.
Doesn't that make you feel a whole lot better?