Throughout the whole ordeal with the NSA leaks, the one line that we kept hearing from defenders of the program was that not only were these programs legal, no one had showed any abuse
by the NSA. That is, even if this program was collecting data on everyone
, the NSA had those important tools in place to block it from being abused. At last week's press conference, this was a key point made by President Obama
. NSA boss Keith Alexander insisted that there was no abuse
, while Rep. Mike Rogers, the NSA's prime defender and head of the House Intelligence Committee, similarly insisted that there was no abuse by the NSA. As we noted, that seemed hard to believe, given past revelations of clear abuse.
And... the latest report from the Washington Post based on leaked documents shows that an audit of the NSA's activities shows it broke privacy rules, mostly to spy on Americans, thousands of times per year
The National Security Agency has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008, according to an internal audit and other top-secret documents.
Most of the infractions involve unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign intelligence targets in the United States, both of which are restricted by law and executive order. They range from significant violations of law to typographical errors that resulted in unintended interception of U.S. e-mails and telephone calls.
The audit info comes from Ed Snowden's leaks, so it seems rather incredible that President Obama, Keith Alexander and Mike Rogers didn't seem to realize that this audit would eventually come to light, showing that they were flat out 100% lying to the American public.
The NSA audit obtained by The Post, dated May 2012, counted 2,776 incidents in the preceding 12 months of unauthorized collection, storage, access to or distribution of legally protected communications. Most were unintended. Many involved failures of due diligence or violations of standard operating procedure. The most serious incidents included a violation of a court order and unauthorized use of data about more than 3,000 Americans and green-card holders.
The NSA's response to all of this is almost comical:
“We’re a human-run agency operating in a complex environment with a number of different regulatory regimes, so at times we find ourselves on the wrong side of the line,” a senior NSA official said in an interview, speaking with White House permission on the condition of anonymity.
Well, of course! That's the point that we've made over and over and over again here in response to these claims of "no abuse." The NSA is made up of humans. And when you give humans the power to spy on just about anyone
there will always
be some abuse. This is why it's important to limit the collection
of information, not promise to stop the abuses. You need to make such abuses much more difficult in the first place.
Even worse, this report only covers the NSA's activities in the DC area. Other NSA locations are not covered.
Three government officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified matters, said the number would be substantially higher if it included other NSA operating units and regional collection centers.
Even a long-term defender of the NSA's programs, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein, sounded a bit taken aback by the report, noting that the Intelligence Committee "can and should do more to independently verify that NSA’s operations are appropriate." Coming from Feinstein, that's a startling admission showing that she's finally realizing just how bad this program is -- a program that she's been defending very strongly for years.
The story also reveals the details of the now infamous, but secret, FISC order that had said certain collection practices were deemed unconstitutional
by the FISC. Apparently, the NSA "diverted large volumes of international data passing through fiber-optic cables in the United States into a repository where the material could be stored temporarily for processing and selection," and then later admitted that there was a ton of US emails in there and that it was impossible to filter out the Americans. It was only months later that the FISC was fully informed of this and said the practice had to stop.
Perhaps the most ridiculous of the abuses was accidental, but reveals how easy it is to have these surveillance programs abused:
In one instance, the NSA decided that it need not report the unintended surveillance of Americans. A notable example in 2008 was the interception of a “large number” of calls placed from Washington when a programming error confused U.S. area code 202 for 20, the international dialing code for Egypt, according to a “quality assurance” review that was not distributed to the NSA’s oversight staff.
And, boom, just like that, a ton of calls from Washington DC were intercepted "by accident" and no one was told about it. No biggie.
So, now, can President Obama, Keith Alexander and Mike Rogers please explain why they lied about the lack of abuse?