August 23, 2013 - Some National Security Agency
analysts deliberately ignored restrictions on their authority to spy on Americans multiple times in the past decade, contradicting Obama administration officialsâ€™ and lawmakersâ€™ statements that no willful violations
â€śOver the past decade, very rare instances of willful violations of NSAâ€™s authorities have been found,â€ť the NSA said in a statement to Bloomberg News. â€śNSA takes very seriously allegations of misconduct, and cooperates fully with any investigations -- responding as appropriate. NSA has zero tolerance for willful violations of the agencyâ€™s authorities.â€ť
The incidents, chronicled in a new report by the NSAâ€™s inspector general, provide more evidence that U.S. agencies sometimes have violated legal and administrative restrictions on domestic spying, and may add to the pressure to bolster laws that govern intelligence activities.
The inspector general documented an average of one case per year over 10 years of intentionally inappropriate actions by people with access to the NSAâ€™s vast electronic surveillance systems, according to an official familiar with the findings. The incidents were minor, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified intelligence.
The deliberate actions didnâ€™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 September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The agency has taken steps to ensure that everyone understands legal and administrative boundaries, whom to consult when questions arise, and the consequences of violations or willful ignorance, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the inspector generalâ€™s report is classified. The report was provided to the congressional intelligence committees, according to administration officials.
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 York on Aug. 8 that â€śno one has willfully or knowingly disobeyed the law or tried to invade your civil liberties or privacy.â€ť
Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Republican Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, have defended the NSA.
Feinstein said in an Aug. 16 statement that her committee â€śhas never identified an instance in which the NSA has intentionally abused its authority to conduct surveillance for inappropriate purposes.â€ť
Rogers said on CBS Corp.â€™s â€śFace the Nationâ€ť television show on July 28 that there were â€śzero privacy violationsâ€ť in the agencyâ€™s collection of phone records of Americans.
The lawmakersâ€™ staffs since have parsed the comments by their bosses, distinguishing between violations of the law governing electronic surveillance and the deliberate violations of the 1981 executive order.
Susan Phalen, a spokeswoman for Rogers, said in an Aug. 16 statement that Rogers meant there hadnâ€™t been â€świllful and intentional violations of law.â€ť
Feinstein meant there hadnâ€™t been any intentional violations of the NSAâ€™s authority under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, according to her office.
John DeLong, the NSAâ€™s director of compliance, first referred to abuses of the 1981 executive order on Aug. 16, telling reporters there had been rare instances of â€świllful violationsâ€ť of legal authority and the privacy rights of U.S. citizens. He said there had been â€śa couple over the past decades,â€ť according to a transcript provided by the agency.
â€śWhen they do occur, right, they are detected, corrected, reported to the inspector general and appropriate action is taken,â€ť he said.
Intelligence officials have attributed most abuses of the FISA restrictions on the NSAâ€™s surveillance of domestic phone calls, e-mails and other communications to technical or inadvertent errors. Legal
opinions declassified on Aug. 21 revealed that the NSA intercepted as many as 56,000 electronic communications a year of Americans who werenâ€™t suspected of having links to terrorism, before a secret court that oversees surveillance found the operation unconstitutional in 2011.
In a declassified legal opinion from October 2011, the court said the agency substantially misrepresented the scope of surveillance operations three times in less than three years.
A May 2012 internal government audit found more than 2,700 violations involving NSA surveillance of Americans and foreigners over a one-year period. The audit was reported Aug. 16 by the Washington Post, citing documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.