March 09, 2017 05:31 PM EST
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WATCH | Will President Trump cut down Obama’s expansion of NSA data access?
For nearly two months now, there has been a steady stream of leaks about sensitive intelligence gathered in the investigation into alleged Russian efforts to influence last year’s elections.
Those leaks have included uncorroborated dossiers from overseas and intercepts of telephone conversations at the Russian Embassy. It has created growing concerns inside the intelligence community that too many people in Washington may be gaining access to sensitive intercepts and human intelligence reporting.
Intelligence professionals tell Circa News they were concerned that some of the Russian intelligence was spread through group briefings to a much larger than usual audience back in January. This would have happened during the final days of the Obama administration when it expanded Executive Order 12333, which allows employees with a “need to know” to have unfettered access to raw data stored by the NSA. These new rules allowed the NSA to share “raw signals intelligence information,” including the names of those involved in phone conversations and emails.
“The expansion of the order makes it difficult to narrow in on the leaks and frankly, it allows too many people access to the raw data, which only used to be available to a select few,” said a U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak on the matter.
“President Trump needs to a look at this executive order and rescind Obama’s expansion of it.”
White House officials are not commenting on whether or not they will rescind the expansion of the executive order, but sources tell Circa they are looking into it and concerned.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters this week, “I think the idea that we are having these ongoing disclosures of national security and classified information should be something that everybody is outraged by in this country.”
The classified information is viewed in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, known as a SCIF, where authorized intelligence officials can request and retrieve the data needed for their investigation.
But the expansion of the order has been criticized by U.S. officials who are suspicious of Obama’s timing and are concerned that leaks will be more prevalent under this new expansion.
One such example is leaked phone call naming former National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak, which eventually led to Flynn’s resignation as an advisor to the president. Under the original executive order, the NSA analysts would filter much of the surveillance information – masking names and only disseminating the necessary parts of the information to those requesting the “need to know” data.
The new order allows the NSA to share raw data and grants the NSA authority to share the information with minimal redactions, according to the copy of procedures. It is not certain the Flynn leaks were related to the expansion of the executive order, however, the leak itself came with a price, say U.S. officials. The officials noted there is widespread frustration among intelligence professionals who say the leaks and misinformation is damaging intelligence operations and has led to distorted media coverage about how counterintelligence operations actually work.
The executive order’s history dates back to President Ronald Reagan. He signed the order into law in 1981, giving the intelligence community the ability to extend their powers and streamlining the ability of federal agencies also investigating intelligence issues, to cooperate with the CIA requests for information.
It gives the NSA almost unlimited authority to access information and intercept overseas communications.
Obama sought to expand those powers and take down the wall during his second term in office. The original executive order only allowed limited personnel – those with the highest levels of security clearances – to view the original raw data.
But the changes came at the end of his presidency. On Jan. 3, then Attorney General Loretta Lynch signed the expansion of the executive order, which had already been signed by DNI Director James Clapper in mid-December.
For many years the executive order didn’t draw a lot of attention, but NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden exposed its vast reach.
Snowden, who is being sought by U.S. authorities for leaking classified information and is now in Russia, was the catalyst that exposed the vast authority of the NSA by revealing how the agency is capable of retrieving and storing vast amounts of what Americans considered private communications in their servers.
You can follow Sara A. Carter on Twitter @SaraCarterDC