WASHINGTON – The nation’s top intelligence official formally acknowledged the Internet surveillance program code-named PRISM on Saturday, saying it had obtained foreign intelligence information from U.S. Internet companies under laws passed by Congress and with oversight from a secret intelligence court.
The statement by James Clapper, director of national intelligence, came after several days of what he described as “reckless disclosures” to the media about classified National Security Agency operations that vacuum up and archive domestic phone records and can access Internet material.
Clapper said he authorized the release of details “to dispel some of the myths and add necessary context to what has been published.”
“PRISM is not an undisclosed collection or data-mining program,” Clapper said. “It is an internal government computer system used to facilitate the government’s statutorily authorized collection of foreign intelligence information from electronic communication service providers under court supervision.”
Clapper denied reports published in the Washington Post and Britain’s Guardian newspaper last week that the NSA has direct access to the servers of Google, Facebook and Apple, among other companies. His statement largely supports their denials that they allowed U.S. intelligence agencies virtually unrestricted access to their servers.
Clapper said the government “does not unilaterally obtain information from the servers” of Internet providers. Access is obtained only with an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court based on a written directive from the U.S. attorney general and from Clapper himself.