When the NSA insists they aren’t targeting Americans with their broad surveillance, the choice of language is deliberate and necessary: the law actually forbids them from doing so, as do the court orders.
That doesn’t mean they don’t target us, of course, it just means they need to find a loophole. Today we learned one of those loopholes is to collect literally all emails and other text-based messages that involve a foreigner, figuring that if pressed they can insist the foreigner, not the Americans were the “target.”
Stretching the credibility of this argument to the breaking point, the NSA reportedly also collects communication between Americans in which “information linked to foreigners” is cited, arguing that those conversations also technically involve the foreigner since he’s being mentioned.
NSA officials, as usual, are declining specific comment on the question of what they’re doing with Americans’ data, insisting only that what they are doing is “lawful” and that they are only collecting data that the FISA orders allow them to collect.
While the administration continues to insist they aren’t spying on Americans, the claim is increasingly boiling down to them deliberately and knowingly spying on Americans, but only when they have some remotely plausible excuse.