One of the problems with reporting on secret programs is that they're, well, secret. And my blog yesterday on Rep. Jerold Nadler's claim that low level NSA analysts don't need a warrant to listen to the phone calls of American citizens turns out to have been wrong - at least according to the Director of National Intelligence.
The intelligence community on Sunday rejected claims from National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden and reports that suggested analysts were able to listen to domestic phone conversations without warrants.
"The statement that a single analyst can eavesdrop on domestic communications without proper legal authorization is incorrect and was not briefed to Congress," said the office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) in a statement.
"Members have been briefed on the implementation of Section 702, that it targets foreigners located overseas for a valid foreign intelligence purpose, and that it cannot be used to target Americans anywhere in the world," it added.
The statement came a day after a report by CNET which said that Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.) had said he was told in a classified briefing that NSA analysts were allowed to listen to domestic phone calls without a prior warrant.
That CNET report came from a public exchange between Nadler and FBI Director Robert Mueller during a Thursday House hearing. Nadler sought clarification on whether warrantless wiretapping was allowed, a practice Mueller denied.
On Sunday, Nadler said he did not believe the NSA could listen to phone calls of Americans without a warrant, a statement seemingly intended to put to rest the CNET report.
"I am pleased that the administration has reiterated that, as I have always believed, the NSA cannot listen to the content of Americans' phone calls without a specific warrant," Nadler said in a statement, according to reports.
The CNET report and earlier claims by admitted leaker Snowden that analysts had the ability to tap into communications without legal authorization were strongly denied by administration officials and lawmakers on Sunday.
So is Nadler so stupid that he misinterpreted the briefing? That's not impossible. It's also not impossible that someone in the administration told him to get on the same page as everyone else and stick with the story that there are no violations of constitutional rights of Americans.
It's also possible that there actually are warrantless wiretaps because the FISA Act allows the NSA to tap phone calls without a warrant as long as they make application for one in a timely manner. And since the FISA court has only turned down 11 requests for warrants out of 39,000 applications since 1979, it hardly matters if they have a warrant or not with such a rubber stamp court.
To the extent that the CNET story and Rep. Nadler's remarks were wrong, I apologize for reporting them as fact.