Operations & Projects

President’s Surveillance Program (PSP)

The President’s Surveillance Program (PSP) is a collection of secret intelligence activities authorized by the President of the United States George W. Bush after the September 11 attacks in 2001 as part of the War on Terrorism. Information collected under this program was protected within a Sensitive Compartmented Information security compartment codenamed STELLARWIND.

The last presidential authorization expired on February 1, 2007, but some of the collection activities were continued, first under the authority of the Protect America Act of 2007, passed in August of that year, and then under the FISA Amendments Act (FAA), which was enacted in July 2008.

One part of the program was the Terrorist Surveillance Program, which authorized warrantless wiretapping of international communications where one party to the communication was believed to be affiliated with al-Qaeda. The other activities have reportedly included data mining of e-mail messages and telephone call detail records in the NSA call database.

In 2007 the Attorney General publicly acknowledged the existence of other intelligence activities covered under the same Presidential authorizations. The full extent of the President’s Surveillance Program was revealed in June 2013, when The Guardian published a highly classified report of the Inspector General of the NSA, describing how the program was established and evolved from September 2001 until January 2007.

The President’s Surveillance Program activities were periodically reauthorized by the President, and were later transitioned to authority granted in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 Amendments Act of 2008. The act required the Inspectors General of all intelligence agencies involved in the program to “complete a comprehensive review” of the activities through January 17, 2007, and produce an unclassified report within one year after enactment. The report published on July 10, 2009 concluded that the President’s program involved “unprecedented collection activities” that went far beyond the scope of the Terrorist Surveillance Program. The report raised questions over the legal underpinnings of the authorizations, a lack of oversight, excessive secrecy, and the effectiveness of the program. The report concluded that the program was built on a “factually flawed” legal analysis.

Public disclosure of the Terrorist Surveillance Program in 2005 ignited the NSA warrantless surveillance controversy. The other classified aspects of the program had also raised serious concerns within the U.S. Department of Justice over the program’s legal status and its potential effect on future criminal prosecutions. This caused conflicts with the White House that resulted in a dramatic confrontation in 2004 at the hospital bedside of the ailing Attorney General, and nearly led to mass resignations of top Justice officials in protest when they were overruled. The report on the program was also released during a period of intense negotiations over proposed language in the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 that would amend the National Security Act of 1947, increasing the requirements for briefing Congress on some classified intelligence programs like this one—President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the bill over that issue.

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