Despite professions by intelligence officials that "backdoor" searches have been strictly limited to foreign individuals, reporting Tuesday has revealed that the NSA has also conducted warrantless searches of Americans' calls and emails.
In a letter sent to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on Friday, the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper acknowledged,
There have been queries, using US person identifiers, of communications lawfully acquired to obtain foreign intelligence targeting non-US persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States.
These queries were performed "pursuant to minimization procedures approved by the FISA court and consistent with the statute and the fourth amendment," Clapper said—referring to Section 702 of the Fisa Amendments Act (FAA), which gives the NSA authority to search without warrant the communications of foreign targets.
Last August it was revealed, through reporting by the Guardian based on documents obtained by whistleblower Edward Snowden, that a "previously undisclosed rule change" to Section 702 now permits NSA operatives to gather individual Americans' communications using their name or other identifying information.
At the time, Wyden denounced the rule change as a “backdoor search loophole."
Now, according to the Guardian's Spencer Ackerman, who broke the story, Clapper's letter marks the first time an intelligence official has confirmed the use of this legal authority to search for data related to "U.S. persons."