White House to publicize secret court orders
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration plans to release previously secret court orders that set out the rules and rationale for the bulk collection of phone records, as officials seek to quell growing unrest in Congress over the government's information dragnet.
A senior official said that the government has declassified the order by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that authorized the collection program, which began in 2007. Before that, the National Security Agency had been collecting telephone records without a court order since shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The now declassified order is expected to be made public Wednesday when Deputy Attorney General James Cole, NSA Deputy Director John Inglis and other officials appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden disclosed the program in June by giving the Guardian newspaper and The Washington Post a secondary order from the foreign intelligence court directed at one company, Verizon. The primary order has more details, the official said, including the rules about when the database of phone records may be queried.
Since Snowden's disclosures, administration officials have been engaged in intense internal debates over how much information about the program and the secret orders of the foreign intelligence court should be released to the public. National security officials have resisted many proposals to declassify information on the program, arguing that any information about it could be used by terrorist groups to evade surveillance.