WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch, a prominent watchdog group, said it had obtained documents documenting the Department of Defense’s policy on authorizing warrantless monitoring of US citizens and green-card holders considered to be "homegrown violent extremists."
Secret Surveillance Puts US Political Processes at Risk
The huge scale of the secret surveillance program posed clear dangers to undermine and manipulate democratic political processes within the United States, cyberwar and data collection expert and author William Blunden told Sputnik.
"With decades of experience in manipulating affairs abroad there's a very concrete threat of the CIA wielding its tools inside American borders," he said. "The perils of domestic covert operations are obvious given the nature of the CIA."
Blunden described the system of surveillance as "a vast secret organization accountable only to the President which has since the end of World War II conspired to infiltrate and influence political systems in countries like Australia, Chile, Guatemala, Iran, Japan, Italy and more recently Syria."
Many Americans still believed that the CIA was prohibited by law from operating within its own country, but that had not been the case in at least 36 years since President Ronald Reagan signed Executive Order 12333 in December 1981, Blunden recalled.
"It's a common misconception that the CIA is prohibited from launching domestic campaigns within the United States. One look at the General Provisions detailed in Executive Order 12333 demonstrates that this is not the case," he said.
Blunden pointed out that in the executive order "special activities" — the legal term for the CIA's clandestine operations — were defined as activities conducted in support of national foreign policy objectives abroad.
Blunden recalled that US Senator Dianne Feinstein, normally a stalwart defender of the intelligence community, on March 11, 2014 warned at the Senate's lectern that the CIA may have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the US Constitution.
"Keep in mind this is a lawmaker who in the past had defended drone strikes, NSA surveillance and the Patriot Act. When you've lost Dianne Feinstein… that's a huge red flag," he warned.
Former President Barack Obama had not restricted the legal powers of the CIA and other US intelligence agencies to operate secretly within their own country against its citizens. Instead, he had vastly extended them, Blunden pointed out.
Procedures approved by then-US Attorney General Loretta Lynch and CIA Director John Brennan in early January 2017 before they left office specifically authorized the CIA to "participate in organizations in the United States," Blunden noted.
Pentagon has Legal Right to Release Surveillance Data at Will
The Defense Department similarly has been authorized to collect as well as release information as it deems appropriate.
"Likewise, the Defense Department manual 5240.01, ‘Procedures Governing the Conduct of DoD Intelligence Activities,’ grants the Pentagon the authority to ‘collect, retain and disseminate information concerning US persons," he said.
Former National Security Agency (NSA) Technical Director William Binney, who became a major whistleblower on the agency’s practices, agreed that the enormous mass surveillance program was continuing and was not justified while breaking the clear intent of the US Constitution.
"This [is] all unjustified surveillance in violation of the Constitution that as far as I can tell has not stopped," he said.
Human Rights Watch said the documents it had obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request revealed how thoroughly the US public had been kept in the dark about warrantless surveillance under Executive Order 12333.
The watchdog group said the US federal government may be carrying out monitoring that poses serious problems for human rights and that Congress should seek more information about what the intelligence agencies were doing in that area.