Lawmakers Probe Willful Abuses of Power by NSA Analysts
More NSA lies fall. Are you keeping track? Remember when NSA assured us that—well, that they did not collect records on Americans? then the fallback that they didn’t really listen to or view those records? Well, that lie also is falling. We simply cannot trust NSA. They have demonstrated that repeatedly. Chris Strohm reports for Bloomberg:
The leaders of U.S. congressional intelligence committees said they want to probe the intentional abuses of surveillance authority committed by some National Security Agency analysts in the past decade.
“I am reviewing each of these incidents in detail,” Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and chairman of the Senate intelligence panel, said in a statement, after the NSA confirmed to Bloomberg News yesterday that some analysts deliberately ignored restrictions on their authority to spy on Americans.
“Any case of noncompliance is unacceptable, but these small numbers of cases do not change my view that NSA takes significant care to prevent any abuses and that there is a substantial oversight system in place,” Feinstein said.
The incidents, chronicled by the NSA’s inspector general, provide additional evidence that U.S. intelligence agencies sometimes have violated the legal and administrative restrictions on domestic spying, and may add to the pressure to bolster laws that govern intelligence activities.
Republican Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan, chairman of the House intelligence committee, is reviewing the cases of intentional misconduct in detail, his spokeswoman, Susan Phalen, said in a statement.
There were “approximately a dozen” cases in the past 10 years that “involved improper behavior on the part of individual employees,” Phalen said.
Most of the cases didn’t involve the communications of Americans, Feinstein said.
Republican Representative Justin Amash of Michigan is seeking details about the incidents, his spokesman, Will Adams, said in a statement. Amash proposed a measure last month that would have denied the NSA funding to collect telephone records on millions of Americans. It fell seven votes short of passing.
“Over the past decade, very rare instances of willful violations of NSA’s authorities have been found,” the agency said in a statement to Bloomberg News. “NSA takes very seriously allegations of misconduct, and cooperates fully with any investigations — responding as appropriate. NSA has zero tolerance for willful violations of the agency’s authorities.”
The compilation of willful violations, while limited, contradicts repeated assertions that no deliberate abuses occurred.
Army General Keith Alexander, director of the NSA, said during a conference in New Yorkon Aug. 8 that “no one has willfully or knowingly disobeyed the law or tried to invade your civil liberties or privacy.”
“There’s a pattern of the administration making misleading statements about its surveillance activities,” Jameel Jaffer, a deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a phone interview. “The government tells us one thing, and another thing is true.”
A secret court that oversees the NSA said in a declassified legal opinion from October 2011 the agency substantially misrepresented the scope of surveillance operations three times in less than three years.
Obama’s administration should make the cases of intentional misconduct public so Americans can assess their significance, Jaffer said.
The cases involved inappropriate actions by people with access to the NSA’s vast electronic surveillance systems, according to an official familiar with the findings who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified intelligence.
In a few cases, NSA officials or contractors used agency surveillance tools or data to spy on people in which they had romantic interests, said two U.S. officials familiar with the cases, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The deliberate actions didn’t violate the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or the USA Patriot Act, the NSA said in its statement. Instead, they overstepped 1981 Executive Order 12333, issued by President Ronald Reagan, which governs U.S. intelligence operations.
The actions, said a second U.S. official briefed on them, were the work of overzealous NSA employees or contractors eager to prevent any encore to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. . .
See also Mike Masnick at TechDirt.com:
So, this week, we wrote about the NSA quietly admitting that there had been intentional abuses of its surveillance infrastructure, despite earlier claims by NSA boss Keith Alexander and various folks in Congress that there had been absolutely no “intentional” abuses. Late on Friday (of course) the NSA finally put out an official statement admitting to an average of one intentional abuser per year over the past ten years. The AP is reporting that at least one of the abuses involved an NSA employee spying on a former spouse. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal suggests that spying on love interests happens somewhat more often:
The practice isn’t frequent — one official estimated a handful of cases in the last decade — but it’s common enough to garner its own spycraft label: LOVEINT.
A handful is still significantly more than once. And it’s a lot more than the “zero” times we’d been told about repeatedly by defenders of the program.
While the NSA says it takes these abuses seriously, there’s no indication that the analyst was fired.
Much more troubling is that it appears that the NSA only told its oversight committee in the Senate about all of this a few days ago:
The Senate Intelligence Committee was briefed this week on the willful violations by the NSA’s inspector general’s office, as first reported by Bloomberg.
“The committee has learned that in isolated cases over the past decade, a very small number of NSA personnel have violated NSA procedures — in roughly one case per year,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who chairs the committee, said in a statement Friday.
Of course, this is the same Dianne Feinstein who, exactly a week ago, said the following:
As I have said previously, the committee has never identified an instance in which the NSA has intentionally abused its authority to conduct surveillance for inappropriate purposes.
Yeah. Because apparently the NSA chose not to tell the committee until a few days later, despite it happening for years.
And, of course, they release this all on a Friday night, hoping that it’ll avoid the news cycle…
In the meantime, the NSA just made Senator Feinstein look like a complete fool. . . .
And check out Juan Cole at Informed Comment. From his post:
. . . The NSA has dealt with the spying scandal with the classic techniques of government manipulation of the public: Deny for as long as possible, then make few gradual small admissions, so when the big abuses come out the press views the story as stale and is unconcerned about the new scale of abuse coming out.
1. First, deny everything. Say it is impossible to access individual Americans’ email as they are typing.
2. Use the difference between statute (laws passed by Congress) and Ronald Reagan’s 1981 Executive Order (which responded to earlier intel abuses and forbids spying on Americans) to deny that any “laws” have been broken. (An Executive Order has the force of law but isn’t exactly a law.). Notorious authoritarians like Mike Rogers (R-MI), head of the House Intelligence Committee, have used this ploy. Rogers wouldn’t know a civil liberty if he tripped over it.
3. admit the capability but insist there are strict controls absolutely preventing abuse.
4. Insist that the FISA court and the House and Senate intelligence committees have full oversight.
5. Admit that the NSA repeatedly lied to the FISA court.
6. Admit a few tens of thousands of in-country US emails were collected before the FISA judges found out and stopped it.
7. Admit you haven’t actually been telling Congress about the abuses
8. Admit that you’ve been sharing info on Americans gained through warrantless surveillance with the Drug Enforcement Agency and local law enforcement, who then lied about how they came by the evidence
9. admit that just a handful of LOVEINT stalking abuses have occurred
Yet to come: revelations that the . . .