NSA Waits until Christmas Eve to Release Documents Admitting Illegal Spying

Monday, December 29, 2014

Christmas time comes once a year, as the song says, and with it the ideal chance to dump embarrassing news about your government agency. The National Security Agency (NSA) took full advantage of the holiday, issuing reports on 12 years of overreaches and mistakes by its employees at 1:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve.


The heavily redacted documents, issued in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the American Civil Liberties Union, contained quarterly and annual reports to the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board that cover the period from the fourth quarter of 2001 to the second quarter of 2013. It detailed abuses such as NSA employees investigating former spouses and girlfriends; continued monitoring of U.S. citizens’ communications after authorization to do so had expired; and a high school work-study student being given access to the NSA database.

Other revelations were those of goofs—typing errors, information being stored on the wrong servers and incorrect recipients of emails. One analyst mistakenly ordered surveillance of his own personal identifier instead of the selector associated with a foreign intelligence target, according to Bloomberg.


Because the released reports have been heavily censored, it is impossible to tell if any of the admissions by the NSA involved serious wrongdoing. However the details that were published were embarrassing enough that the agency took the opportunity to release the report when it knew the fewest people would be paying attention. 


The ACLU said the release pointed out how the NSA’s power can be misused. “The government conducts sweeping surveillance under this authority—surveillance that increasingly puts Americans’ data in the hands of the NSA,” Patrick C. Toomey, staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project, said in an e-mail to Bloomberg.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Highlights From Newly Released NSA Oversight Reports Reveal Bumbling Ineptitude But No Evidence Of Systematic Abuse (by Elise Ackerman, Forbes)

U.S. Spy Agency Reports Improper Surveillance of Americans (by David Lerman, Bloomberg)

NSA Reports to the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board (National Security Agency)

Does NSA Avoid U.S. Legal Restrictions by Hiring British Intelligence to Gather Information on Americans? (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

Left and Right Unite to Sue NSA over Telephone Records Surveillance (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)


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