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Stellar Wind: NSA collected US email records for more than two years under Obama

The Guardian reported that the National Security Agency collected US email records for more than two years under the Obama administration with the Stellar Wind surveillance program.

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National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. (NSA/Getty Images)

The Guardian released documents containing more information on the National Security Agency's surveillance programs Thursday.

Documents obtained by the Guardian reportedly show that the agency collected US email records in bulk for more than two years under the Obama administration.

The collection of email metadata — which reveals information such as the sender, the receiver and IP addresses — was a continuation of a program begun under the Bush administration's wide-sweeping warrantless program known by codename Stellar Wind.

More from GlobalPost: What is the NSA actually doing, anyway?

The British newspaper said the documents indicate that the 2001-launched program had a federal judge sitting on the FISA court — the secret surveillance panel — approve the collection of bulk internet metadata "every 90 days."

The program was confirmed by a senior administration official, who also said it ended in 2011.

Wired noted that Stellar Wind was first exposed in 2004 by a Justice Department attorney who leaked information to The New York Times.

Earlier this month, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper appeared on the Today show to discuss the NSA's secret surveillance programs.

"The notion that we're trolling through everyone's emails and voyeuristically reading them, or listening to everyone phone call, is on its face absurd," Clapper told Andrea Mitchell. "We couldn't do it even if we wanted to.

"For me, it is literally, not figuratively, gut-wrenching to see this happen, because of the huge, grave damage it does to our intelligence capabilities," he continued.

"Transparency is a double-edged sword, in that our adversaries, whether nation-state adversaries, or nefarious groups, benefit from that transparency. As we speak, they’re going to school, learning how we do this."

According to what the Guardian calls "a top-secret draft report by the NSA's inspector general," the agency "began collection of bulk internet metadata" involving "communications with at least one communicant outside the United States or for which no communicant was known to be a citizen of the United States."

A 2007 Justice Department memo marked secret also said the NSA gained authority to "analyze communications metadata associated with United States persons and persons believed to be in the United States."

Edward Snowden, the contractor who leaked the NSA's documents to the Guardian and other news organizations, is currently thought to be in Russia, in a Moscow airport. Originally surfacing in Hong Kong following the leaks, Snowden was thought to be on his way to Cuba. However, he never made his flight. The US has called for him to be extradited.