Corker: Lawmakers learn more about NSA from newspaper than briefings

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) is demanding a new round of briefings on U.S. domestic surveillance operations. 

In a blistering critique of past briefings, Corker argued lawmakers learning more on the front page of the newspaper than behind closed doors with security officials. 

In a Wednesday letter to the White House, Corker said briefings by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, National Security Agency (NSA) chief Gen. Keith Alexander and others have not provided a full account of U.S. surveillance.

Briefings have "generally been limited to simply discussing the facts underlying specific public disclosures" of domestic surveillance operations, he said. 

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"As a result, members of Congress regularly read new revelations on the front pages of various newspapers," Corker wrote. 

Lawmakers are "left to wonder why the prior briefings provided by [administration officials] did not cover the material contained in these [news] articles," he added. 

A new briefing "should discuss the totality of NSA operations, including but not limited to those that have already been discussed publicly," he wrote. 

Corker's request comes the same day Clapper revealed that the NSA improperly spied on people in the United States with no connection to terrorism beginning in 2008.

The NSA collected as many as many as 56,000 emails from Americans before the mistake was identified. Officials said the surveillance was inadvertent and that the agency ended it in 2011.

Revelations on the inadvertent collections came in 2011, when U.S. officials briefed members of the congressional intelligence committees on data culled from American citizens' electronic communications. 

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) allows U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies to get, with a court’s approval, the details of phone and email conversations being conducted by foreigners suspected of carrying out or aiding terrorist plots.

The inadvertent collection of data on U.S. citizens was due to a technological glitch in the NSA's collection system, a senior U.S. intelligence official told reporters on Wednesday. 

The specific glitch was tied to the agency's "upstream collection" operations. 

Upstream collection, according to the official, is when intelligence analysts intercept emails associated with addresses targeted by the NSA as they move across computer networks on the Internet. 

"Its like a screenshot," the official said, explaining how intelligence officials intercept messages in upstream collection operations. Nearly 10 percent of all intelligence gathered under Section 702 operations is derived from upstream collections. 

The problem is that in some intercepted messages, that "screenshot" included emails and information of U.S. citizens in those emails, alongside the addresses of foreign suspects targeted by the NSA and the intelligence community. 

The federal court overseeing intelligence and counterterrorism operations under FISA ruled the inadvertent collections of Americans' data was a violation of federal mandates. 

But the court agreed with the intelligence community that the collections were unavoidable.

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