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U.S. to declassify documents on spy programs

U.S. to declassify documents on spy programs

U.S. spy agencies plan to release newly declassified documents about surveillance programs. Photo: Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. spy agencies plan to release newly declassified documents as early as this week about the National Security Agency surveillance programs revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden, and also material related to a secret intelligence court, a U.S. intelligence official said on Tuesday.

The declassified documents were intended to provide the public more information about the programs as part of a commitment by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper for greater transparency, the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The documents would also include information about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the official said. That court operates in secrecy in making decisions on government surveillance requests.

The Washington Post reported late Tuesday that senior U.S. officials said one of the orders the administration plans to declassify was issued by the FISA court in April and directed Verizon Communications to turn over a large number of Americans’ phone records.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the newspaper the order would be made public before a Wednesday morning hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee where officials from the NSA, Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence were to testify.

General Keith Alexander, director of the NSA, said he was glad the government was taking action to declassify more information.

“I think it is the right thing. I think it helps articulate what we are trying to do and why we are trying to do it,” he told Reuters in Las Vegas where he is scheduled to speak at the Black Hat conference of cybersecurity experts on Wednesday.

“I think the more we can give to the American people, the better. We always have to balance security of the nation with transparency. But in this case I think it is a good thing,” Alexander said.

Snowden’s release of information about the NSA surveillance programs to American and European media outlets sparked an uproar over revelations last month that U.S. intelligence agencies had collected data on phone calls and other communications of Americans and foreign citizens as a tool for fighting terrorism.

The move to declassify more information about the surveillance programs, which intelligence officials say have helped thwart terrorist attacks, comes as some lawmakers seek curbs in response to privacy concerns.

Snowden has been charged under the U.S. Espionage Act and is stuck at an airport in Russia while seeking asylum in a country that will not hand him over to the United States.

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