Analysts for the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon-run department that specializes in military spy intelligence, made the revelation in a memo written to Senator Ron Wyden, the Democrat from Oregon.
According to the memo, the DIA has searched commercial databases that contain information about the movements of American citizens as part of five separate investigations spread out over the past two-and-a-half years.
The DIA, whose main mission is claimed to detect threats to American soldiers stationed worldwide, appears to be buying location data that specifically pertains to investigations of foreigners abroad.
The DIA admitted in the memo, first obtained by The New York Times, that it buys the data from private data brokers and that the data is not vetted based on whether the smartphone user lives in the United States or abroad.
“Permission to query the US device location data has been granted five times in the past two and a half years for authorized purposes,” according to the DIA memo.
Data brokers are private companies that collect and sell people’s information, including their locations.