Top NSA official rejects claims they spied on everyone in SLC during the 2002 Olympics

Posted at 11:27 AM, Mar 18, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-18 16:02:53-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- One of the top officials in the National Security Agency is denying that they spied on anyone and everyone in Salt Lake City during the 2002 Winter Olympics.

In a rare, sworn declaration filed in federal court and obtained by FOX 13, NSA Director of Operations Wayne Murphy rejected the allegations of "blanket" surveillance leveled in a lawsuit against the agency.

"Neither the PSP (President's Surveillance Program) nor any other NSA intelligence-gathering activity, at any time has involved indiscriminate 'blanket' surveillance in Salt Lake City or the vicinity of the 2002 Winter Olympic venues, whether during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games or otherwise," Murphy wrote. "The collection of communications content under the PSP was targeted at one-end-foreign communications where a communicant was reasonably believed to be a member or agent of al-Qaeda or another international terrorist organization."

Murphy noted that the PSP allowed for "broad" collection of communications, "but the program never captured information on all (or virtually all) telephone or electronic communications made or received in the United States." However, he did tell the judge in his affidavit that the details remain classified.

In a lawsuit filed by a variety of plaintiffs including Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, former Salt Lake City Councilwoman Deeda Seed and Utah Democratic Party Vice-Chairwoman Josie Valdez, the NSA is accused of mass surveillance in a post-9/11 Olympics. The plaintiff's attorney, former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, has accused the agency of sweeping up data on every phone call, text message and email for all people in the area during the Olympic games.

[FILE] Aerial view of the National Security Agency building in Washington, D.C.

A federal judge has so far refused to dismiss the lawsuit. The NSA filed the declaration in a request to shut down further discovery requests about the NSA's intelligence gathering abilities as part of the litigation.

While acknowledging the authority to gather data under the PSP and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), Murphy repeatedly insisted that "blanket" surveillance did not happen in Salt Lake City. His declaration does not state if there was targeted surveillance by the NSA.

Murphy also rejected claims the NSA has stored all that data (coincidentally, the agency maintains a massive data storage center in Bluffdale).

"The decision to deny Plaintiff's allegations of 'blanket' surveillance conducted in Salt Lake City, and the vicinity of the Olympic venues, was not taken lightly," Murphy wrote. "Ordinarily, the NSA can neither confirm nor deny allegations regarding the existence or operational details of its intelligence-gathering activities without revealing sensitive sources and methods of intelligence collection to our Nation's adversaries, and thus risking exceptionally grave damage to national security."

Reacting to the declaration, Anderson said he believes the lawsuit now has the NSA's attention.

"The American people should be demanding the NSA be forthcoming about any criminal violations it has committed," he told FOX 13 on Friday. "If the NSA engaged in any warrantless surveillance of emails, or even the metadata of telephone calls, that’s clearly a violation of the Constitution and FISA which makes such warrantless surveillance a federal felony."

Read NSA Director of Operations Wayne Murphy's declaration here: