Latest Leak: NSA Abused Rules To Spy On Americans 'Thousands Of Times Each Year'

from the boom dept

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?

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Comments on “Latest Leak: NSA Abused Rules To Spy On Americans 'Thousands Of Times Each Year'”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Abused and Broken

And apparently they broke those laws 2,776 times in a single year. If you average that out, that’s 7.58 times they broke the law per day, or roughly once every 3.25 hours. In a single regional center in Washington DC.

And that’s just counting incidents. Some of those instances involved illegally spying on thousands of people. In most other crimes, those would count as separate charges (for instance, assault — if you assault 30 people, you get charged with 30 counts of assault); the NSA seems to consider the number of people spied on per breach as being irrelevant.

Brandt Hardin (user link) says:


The dystopian fantasies of yesteryear are now a reality. We?ve allowed the coming of an age where the civil liberties our forefathers fought so hard for are being eroded by the day. Freedom of Press, Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly are mere ghostly images of their original intent. We?ve woken up to an Orwellian Society of Fear where anyone is at the mercy of being labeled a terrorist for standing up for rights we took for granted just over a decade ago. Read about how we?re waging war against ourselves at

FM Hilton (profile) says:

The Abuse police

They won’t be able to justify this-even Alice in Wonderland couldn’t do it.

But they’ll damn well try: “We weren’t aware of this. We’ll have a panel of experts investigating it real soon.”

The best is yet to come: the rest of the NSA’s collection centers data. How much worse is it than this? Whole lots, I would kinda guess. Millions of people have had their information ‘accidentally’ accessed.

Frankly, I think it will possibly be the tipping point for the Congress to finally get off their ass and do something substantial-and not look bewildered.

I think it’s high time the lies from everyone in the government stop. It’s very embarrassing now to be identified as an American.

out_of_the_blue says:

Oh, but we can trust Google!

“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.”

It’s just incredible that Mike refuses to apply his own logic to Google, Facebook, and other corporations that get most of their income from SPYING — and will abuse information so as to glean every cent possible.

Where Mike sez: Any system that involves spying on the activities of users is going to be a non-starter. Creeping the hell out of people isn’t a way of encouraging them to buy. It’s a way of encouraging them to want nothing to do with you.”

FM Hilton (profile) says:

Re: Oh, but we can trust Google!

Just stop with the paranoia on Google, FB, and all the other crap.

What information one gives to them is voluntary. The NSA’s illegal collection of data from everyone is not.

There is a difference, and I wish to high heaven you’d get it. Please, for your own sanity if not for ours. It’s getting old and stupid, your insistence on dragging those names out of your hat every single time anyone posts anything about the NSA’s illegal activities.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Oh, but we can trust Google!

OOTB should be blacklisted for life from this site. He’s just an ignorant asshole whose contributions here not only have no value, they have negative value. He’s a ranting, spamming moron and it appalls me that he hasn’t long since been silenced: he is unworthy to speak.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Oh, but we can trust Google!

His point is that you guys are a bunch of douchebag hypocrites.

You say it’s evil for the NSA to read some hotheaded Muslim’s email to gain info on terrorism, but it’s ok for Google to read your emails to spam you with dumb fucking ads.

Uh huh. Yeah, no problem there.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Oh, but we can trust Google!

Two things:

1. Google’ activities vis a vis their users communications are done with consent.
2. Google can’t order a drone strike or impose fines and jail time if it doesn’t like the contents of your communications.

It’s ludicrous that you think the two situations are even remotely similar.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Oh, but we can trust Google!

You say it’s evil for the NSA to read some hotheaded Muslim’s email to gain info on terrorism

Literally nobody here has said that.

it’s ok for Google to read your emails to spam you with dumb fucking ads.

Legally and ethically, it is — because they’re doing it with your knowledge and consent. Why is that such a difficult concept to grasp?

My2cents (profile) says:

Re: Re: Oh, but we can trust Google!

Late reply… R U kidding? You must be a Google shareholder or something. It’s not paranoia, it’s reality. Information voluntary…r u kidding? Explain how you voluntarily give “information” a/k/a eavesdropping on you & your family. Define information as the need to hear every conversation you have, in your home, on your phone and on your computer. Control over every bit of your life, from your job, bills, bank accounts, social habits, spending habits and everything else. Don’t bitch when your smart tv is recording you, naked or not. BTW at least you got it right when you wrote “NSA’s illegal collection of data.” What if this was the last comment you could every right on anything ever, and I mean ever?

Internet Zen Master (profile) says:

Re: Oh, but we can trust Google!

For the record ootb, on any given day the NSA will (on average) collect 9.21 petabytes more data than Google. (NSA=29.21 petabytes versus Google 20 petabytes)

Also unless Google is doing DPI to collect its data, it’s nowhere near as invasive as the NSA.

And as many of the others have told you, if you’re so paranoid about Google, don’t use it.

JCDavis says:

The intentional abuse is much worse than the unintentional

NSA’s Russ Tice claims that NSA is one big blackmail machine. That the abuses are quite intentional and that they aren’t listening in to ordinary Americans, but only the political elite. And you can only suppose that the purpose of this is for blackmail, because Senators and Supreme Court judges aren’t terrorists, are they? So if Tice is right, Obama is a puppet of people in the NSA, or people who are using the NSA. Our democracy is a fraud, a shell. It’s gone and we’ve slipped into the abyss that Frank Church warned us about.

Anonymous Coward says:

?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.”

I’m a victim of illegal spying. I installed encryption software on my cell phone. Then I got a fake update through my web browser homepage, trying to get me to click on it to infect my cell phone with spyware.

I even checked my homepage settings in the web browser on my cell phone, and the homepage address in the settings was still the same as it’s always been, but I was being re-directed, thru DNS redirect, to an AT&T landing page every time I opened the web browser on my cell phone.

So everyone who tries to exercise their Constitutional rights to privacy, using encryption, is having “the contents and the metadata” illegally seized by the NSA, stored and later searched.

They can search it because of the spyware they infect you with.

I know it sounds crazy, but I experienced it first hand. Plus, in light of all we’re learning, does it really sound that crazy any more? I hope not.

Anonymous Coward says:

Have another report vote ootb. You just can’t quit obsessing.

Understand that we still haven’t heard all there is to hear about the abuses and misuses of all this spying on Americans.

What we have heard is lies, misdirection, assurances that what Americans fear isn’t happening, and the promise nothing will stop these programs other than they might expand.

Almost weekly if not more often once some assurance is attempted to be given, it is again shown it was a lie and it was told with foreknowledge it was such within a day to hours.

This is approaching an impeachable offense for the president and borders on the very things that the latest whistle blowers have been accused of… spying. Only it isn’t a foreign government that’s considered the enemy just by the actions that have been revealed. It’s our own people that are now considered the enemy and they are trying their damnest to cover that fact up. When viewed in this light, all that ammunition that is cheaper to buy in bulk suddenly makes a whole lot of sense in the most evil way.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Quit your bitching....

Now, impossible is damn near impossible to reach. A rare exception is all you can hope for with squishy-heads doing the work.

Having a computer do the hard work is part of what is causing the 202 instead of 20 error. That they very much need to put in more checks in their computer-programs is another story.

fredric williams (user link) says:

Intelligence Tests for Government Employees

For eight years I lived in South Korea (note to NSA spies, that’s the part of Korea that we are friends with). There, to get a job in government, you must be able to pass a very difficult examination (the same is true of lawyers). As a result, government functions smoothly — so much so that I lost my skill at complaining. To work for the government of South Korea is to have a high-status job.

In the US, we have no real tests, and we follow an old practice. First-class people hire first-class people. But our government is run by political appointees, second-class people with second-class minds. Second-class people hire third-class people. Government workers get no respect, and most deserve it.

When NSA screws up, it is working at a level of incompetence that is government-wide. While its violations are criminal, I have no doubt that many are simply due to stupidity. Government Intelligence is an oxymoron.

We should expect no more until the people are ready to do a major house-cleaning.

Anonymous Coward says:

So why only Snowden

With the NSA with it’s hundreds of thousands of workers, years and years and years of operations, with all that ONLY ONE PERSON has ever stood up and said THEY think it’s not right.

Why only 1 person in all that time, with all those people ??

You would think if NSA were doing SO MUCH bad stuff, there would be lots and lots of people NOW standing up and agreeing with Snowden..

But there is not !!!!!!

No only one person, who does not even have the conviction to stand up and back up his claims. He’s run away to Russia.

Makes you wonder, right !!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: So why only Snowden

Yeah, it makes me wonder who took their information and sold it to Russia, China, etc, rather than freely giving it to the press.

Also, Snowden has backed up his claims with documents given to the press. Sitting around, getting arrested and thrown in solitary confinement does not back up anything.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: So why only Snowden

Someone brought this point up elsewhere and I thought it was particularly important, given the ‘ran away to russia’ line I keep seeing as supposed evidence of ill intentions, but russia was originally only supposed to be a waystop for Snowden, he was headed to another country, but when the US revoked his passport he was stuck, unable to continue on.

So you want to blame someone for Snowden being forced to remain in russia, look no further than the US.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: So why only Snowden

  • as said, there have been others
  • I suspect there is quite some willfull blindness, it’s easy to rationalize bad behaviour
  • but most importantly: most people don’t like being persecuted, and rather follow orders and do what they are told (and really, given the way the us treats whistleblowers, you can’t blame them)
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: So why only Snowden

Also check the linkbox at the bottom of this article under “controversy”

Darryl, it would do you well to educate yourself on the subjects you speak of BEFORE you make a fool of yourself.

So to be as succinct as possible: you are wrong. It isn’t “1 person in all that time, with all those people”

marque2 says:

Google spying not the same

“It’s just incredible that Mike refuses to apply his own logic to Google, Facebook, and other corporations that get most of their income from SPYING”

Um, Google may spy on me, but I know it and
1: Can refuse to use their service
2: Can’t be thrown in jail Google or Facebook.

NSA I am being spied on with no say in the matter, and they can put me in jail, or at the very least get the IRS to give me a hard time. It isn’t even close to comparable.

Anonymous Coward says:

They'll keep lying, to the bitter end

Glenn Greenwald’s partner’s laptop was stolen from their home back in June following a Skype chat discussing Glenn sending an encrypted copy of Snowden’s documents to his partner:

?When I was in Hong Kong, I spoke to my partner in Rio via Skype and told him I would send an electronic encrypted copy of the documents,? Greenwald said. ?I did not end up doing it. Two days later his laptop was stolen from our house and nothing else was taken. Nothing like that has happened before. I am not saying it?s connected to this, but obviously the possibility exists.?

Obama, Alexander, Rogers, etc will continue to keep lying because they are certainly not willing to betray further abuses of the constitution and law. They will continue, as was the case before Snowden’s leaks, to pretend that all which the public knows already is all that there is for the public to know & be concerned with.

Without a doubt, there are many people in the US gov’t working on finding the locations of all copies of these documents (Lavabit’s received FISC warrant, for example was definitely part of this effort) in order to recover and destroy them. Thats why the laptop was stolen. If they can somehow manage to get ahead of any further leaks and destroy all the evidence currently outside of their control, then we the public will no longer have any hard, factual evidence of their lies. We will have to just content ourselves with doubting their honesty but being unable to prove it, it will mean the momentum against these spying bastards will die, quickly due to the ridiculous inability of the public to remember anything that the media isn’t constantly reminding them of. Not to mention how uesless much of the media is at covering anything of real importance without plenty of hyperbole, dishonesty, and blackouts.

The US gov’t plans on getting ahead of these leaks. They will not accept responsibility and back down. They are doubling down. Obama is a prime example, stating the unlimited spying will continue, claiming to welcome a debate which never happens and appointing Clapper to supervise the group supervising the NSA. They have no respect for the concerns of the American people. We are seen in a very condescending light, which isn’t entirely unwarranted, and is also not at all acceptable. Under no circumstances will the bad actors in our gov’t actually work in the public’s favor. We need sweeping change of personnel and an impeachment to get the ball rolling in the public’s best interests. Obama and his cronies will not ever act in our best interests, that much should be explicitly clear by this point. To continue to maintain the belief that we can actually expect anything positive to happen without sweeping change is simply hurting the cause. We must be calling for massive reform now, before the public gets distracted by some new thing which has no importance when weighed against the destruction of the constitution and the end of our ‘democracy’.

FM Hilton (profile) says:

/Re:So why only Snowden

Not to justify it, but when one is working for a living, (a good amount of money, too), has a family to support, and has an employer who orders you to not look at certain things, one is persuaded to overlook the problem.

Not having a moral compass to complain about it is one part of the problem-having the need to earn money is another.

Then there’s the idea that perhaps one believes that one is doing the right thing, after all. What’s a few bad things when the whole country depends on your work?

“We were just following orders” is a very terrible phrase, but it resounds throughout the ages, and it applies everywhere.

The institutional mindset is tough to beat back. When one is part of a group invested with the so-called ‘security’ of the country, anything is permissible, even illegal acts.

Ninja (profile) says:

?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,?

Say that to the ordinary citizen that happens to break the law by a honest mistake. In fact, tell that to those that happen to somehow break TOS agreements and download a large amount of documents. Swartz faced decades in jail for doing absolutely nothing wrong.

High Court, Low Court.

th (profile) says:

First thing that struck me

Try pleading this before even the smallest violation of law before a court sometimes:

“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.”

People are reasonable and lenient when evaluating their own actions and motivations. They know what they intended and this ought to count, they think – a lot. Just an interesting, if expected, contrast to the regime everyone else lives under. Since their PR function generated this and it passed the gatekeepers, we can conclude they have a bit of a tin ear.

I personally think the NSA culture is about what you might expect to arise from people doing that job.

They take their job seriously and don’t see it as a kind of game or something that is going to permit itself to be gamed by an overly strict interpretation of law. The consent of the governed depend on the durability and continuance of the underlying civil society. Without national security, they know, there will be no democracy, no governance through consent. From their perspective , those are the threats. From TechDirt habitue’s POV, Big Brother and corruption from within are the real dangers to civil society. Both parties are right.

Probably some ironical formulation like “we do our job so well, civilians only have us as a target of anxiety” flashes across the collective mind of NSA.

Unavoidably, they have a bunch of every kind of person employed present, from a bunch of Snowdens to a bunch of Clappers- people who think it’s necessary and expected to lie to the American public for national security reasons they aren’t permitted to explain. Catching shit for such lying is seen, internally, as a form of falling on your sword.

They have people who have deeply felt political beliefs, that are factually and evidentially challenged and ultimately injurious but which potentially intersect with their jobs in some way and which might lead them to break the law while doing their jobs. Zealots I think they’re called.

No matter how we assembled this functionality for society, abuse of some magnitude will occur.

The fact that there IS an internal review process in the form of this audit is significant and either means they realize they’re uniquely dangerous or they can’t get away from the imposition of the auditors, probably for both technical and cultural reasons.

Even the civilian police don’t engage in pre-crime arrests- violations of law will happen first, adjustments in procedures and policies only follow after the fact. The question is, is there real deterrent imposed and how do we know ?

No one wants another Hoover or some form of distributed Hoover in place, a guy who made national policy through blackmail. The question is, how to prevent that and maintain national security. At least laws have to be respected internally. At least.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: First thing that struck me

The question is, how to prevent that and maintain national security.

That’s not the only possible downside, so it’s not the most basic question.

The most basic question is, essentially, a cost/benefit calculation: how much freedom are we willing to give up in exchange for how much national security?

The real “sin” that was committed is that such a fundamental and important question was decided for us, rather than us deciding it for ourselves. I believe it was decided for us because we would not have made the decision that the powers-that-be wanted.

FM Hilton (profile) says:

Oh, but we can trust Google!

You know, stupidity doesn’t seem to bother you too awfully much.

We’re not hypocrites for not paying attention to your obsessive need to spam this site.

Time to take your meds, OOB, because it’s clear that you’re not doing well at all.

Posting as an AC repeatedly should be made a bannable offense, really. It makes you look really infantile.

Referring to yourself in the 3rd person is a serious mental disorder, too.

Wyatt Garland Phipps (user link) says:

A victim of nietz American government

Well I’ll start off by explaining who I am where I’m from and small background. So you can see a better picture, I am 37 years old white male from mid west. Born in Kansas City, moved and lived in Springfield MO from 2004 until 2011. I owned a small hurting lawn treatment company and have found out I’m good in sells and come off as knowing what I’m talking about even when I pm not so sure. One thing I am 100% sure of is I fear my government from what I have seen had happen to me things shown and pretty much told to shut up when I speak of true events that I have faced. Since I used my real name and have nothing to hide, but know some facts and details on issues that Americans should know since its the truth and the people deserve the right to hear facts and make up they re own minds. Well back in 2009 I had some time off from work and got sick of hearing a family member go on and on about nine 11 cover up. So to shut him up and look into it myself. I was dumb founded after about 30 mins on Internet. With interviews of first hand witnesses mayors, firefighters, police officers who were there or there right after. I made up my own mind and I already knew American media was censored but still. Thousands died at the hands of our own govt or allowed to die for still unknown reason. The fact is they knew or did it they re selfs. This is when the spying started and still goes on. My voice is finger printed along with my face readable on phone or Internet connections, I have trashed many computers. After about 10 min’s of use, something comes in over Internet installs and nothing can stop it trust me I tried everything. Once in it uses GPS in computer gets passwords of all your accts, watches you without turning on active light on laptops, the mic in laptops can be adjusted so fine anyone can listen to your neighbors having sex in apt next to them. So the mic works as a bug, if computer ain’t connected to net it can use any cell phone within Bluetooth range to give live video sound or finger print reading off computers with finger print feature. How do I know this, I was computer geek when I was younger learned a bit of programming IQ high average at 121 and memory above normal as it was how I learned to read when I was a child. I memorized how to spell and still do it even and with countless different words and spellings its come in handy at times. I have posted censored news online before and next day always forced off the road with a clear intent on other drivers ( more than once or twice) . It’s bad how a normal once proud American has been beat down so bad by his own government I wonder why I’m still alive. Most couldn’t handle it after first few months, try years….. Years of torturous tactics without one questioned asked of me not one request for interview, nothing…… Oh yeah and NO CHARGES other than traffic tickets… Millions and millions spent on me once counted 10+ people following me to city dump cause I was remodeling my house I owned. 10 full time people watching one guy me. A peaceful nice well rounded guy who’s friends have been questioned about me. If one who’s Germany per ww2 history you would see its roast now here in America than right before ww2 in Germany with the spying file keeping etc…. Thank You Snowden….. I really do mean that and you got heart brother, wish I was there myself instead of watched and with a end still unknown as I watch them watching me the best I can

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