NSA admits to a decade’s worth of improper surveillance of Americans in holiday document dump

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The National Security Agency quietly admitted on Christmas Eve to a decade’s worth of privacy violations in accordance with a lawsuit. 

In the executive summary accompanying the document dump the NSA stated that ‘the vast majority’ of incidents were the result of ‘unintentional technical or human error’ and in ‘very few cases’ was the agency’s intelligence system misused on purpose.

In one particularly egregious abuse of the agency’s spyware, however, an analyst inappropriately surveilled her husband’s acquaintances.In another an Army sergeant kept tabs on his wife.

This entry, clipped from a redacted NSA report released on Christmas eve in a document, details how an analyst improperly used the system to target acquaintances of her husband

The spying agency released redacted versions of its annual and quarterly reports to the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board from the end of 2001 to the middle of 2013 as required by a Freedom of Information Act suit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Published on Wednesday night, but not broadly noticed until today due to the timing of the NSA’s actions, the reports reveal dozens of instances in which the agency eavesdropped on the wrong targets because of ‘typographical errors’ or engaged in ‘overly broad’ data collection.

On numerous occasions information was shared with unauthorized personnel within the NSA.

In at least two cases the wrong subject tracked because the agency mixed up that person’s email account with the intended target, the documents show.

At another time ‘military personnel who were not authorized’ to view intelligence logged into the program. ‘Their access was discontinued,’ the report said.

In the first part of 2012 an analyst confessed that ‘during the past two or three years, she had searched her spouse’s personal telephone directory without his knowledge to obtain names and telephone numbers for targeting.’ The analyst was ‘advised to cease her activities,’ the report said, adding that an investigation was underway.

Patrick Toomey, an attorney for the ACLU’s National Security Project, told the Wall Street Journal that the newly released documents prove that the NSA has ‘misused the information it collects over the past decade.’

‘They show an urgent need for greater oversight by all three branches of government,’ Toomey said.

The documents reveal dozens of instances in which the agency eavesdropped on the wrong targets because of ‘typographical errors’ or engaged in ‘overly broad’ data collection

In its companion statement released along with its oversight reports the NSA contended that it ‘goes to great lengths to ensure compliance with the Constitution, laws and regulations,,’ it said in its report. However some human errors ‘occur naturally in any large, complex system,’ it argued.

Still, the ‘NSA takes even unintentional errors seriously and institutes corrective action, typically involving at a minimum a combination of training and technical measures designed to prevent recurrences.

‘Data incorrectly acquired is almost always deleted,’ the NSA added, in what it calls its ‘purge’ process.

The intelligence gathering agency also issued reassurances that ‘analysts must follow a host of detailed rules when searching for foreign intelligence information’ and that the ‘NSA protects privacy and civil liberties while safeguarding the nation and our allies.’

Legislation that would have terminated the agency’s controversial phone-monitoring system died in the Senate this month and must be retooled and reintroduced in the next legislative session, which begins in January, in order to be considered by Congress.


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