Navy Officer Working For The NSA Caught Trying To Search Her Boyfriend's Son's Phone

from the self-starter-goes-for-illegal-snooping-right-out-of-the-gate dept

The NSA often makes statements following document leaks about its undying interest in protecting the rights of Americans, no matter how much might be swept up intentionally/incidentally by its surveillance programs. Undoubtedly, there is some sincerity in this statement. But the following story, based on information liberated by a Jason Leopold FOIA request, shows the NSA can be sincere about its desire to protect Americans' privacy while still doing very little to uphold that ideal.

A Navy officer stationed in Iraq “deliberately and without authorization” used an NSA database to try to pry into the mobile phone of her boyfriend’s son, according to a top secret NSA inspector general report obtained by BuzzFeed News.

The NSA discovered the violation about a month after it happened. The officer was undergoing training and had already taken two courses pertaining to the search and use NSA collections. But when this violation occurred, she had been given full access to NSA data stores to complete her final course.

During a training exercise, she entered her boyfriend’s son’s telephone number into a search field and tried to access data covering the span of a month on the prepaid telephone number. That phone was also used by other members of her boyfriend’s family, the report said.

But the officer had an excuse: according to the report [PDF], she said it was the "only telephone number she could think of at the time." The Inspector General found this excuse to be dubious at best.

"She could not explain why this telephone number came to mind instead of her own telephone number or any other number."

Now, here's where we get to the NSA's professed respect for Americans' Fourth Amendment rights. The level of respect will vary from person to person. Obviously, the Navy officer had zero respect for her boyfriend's son's rights. More troubling, her instructor apparently felt this violation wasn't a big deal.

When she entered the phone number, the system displayed a "bright red warning sign." This scared the officer but her instructor's response showed little concern about the violation the officer was attempting to engage in.

[H]er trainer, an Army officer, told her “not to worry” and to just clear out the various search fields on the database.

Neither the Navy officer nor her trainer reported the incident.

The NSA discovered the violation during an audit and reported it. This is good, but it's also limited to what the NSA chooses to report.

The Inspector General has noted in the past it is limited in its oversight abilities by the NSA and its reporting systems. The IG often has trouble compiling the information needed to make a determination about potential violations and there have been times where the NSA has actually destroyed information the IG has needed for investigations.

Much of what we know about the NSA's violations is self-reported. But this relies on the agency being forthcoming -- something it's not particularly known for. The gap between what's discovered and what's handed over by the agency has been noticed by its Congressional oversight and the FISA court. The latter, in particular, has noted the agency often delivers notification of violations months or years after the violations occur and has been routinely unwilling to clarify technical issues when discussing violations with the court.

In this case, the Navy officer claimed the violation was an "accident" that occurred during training. The Inspector General's office, however, viewed it as a deliberate misuse of highly-sensitive data. It appears the NSA sided with the officer. The only "punishment" handed out was another round of training. So, when the NSA claims it's doing everything it can to protect Americans from unlawful surveillance, it's a half-truth at best. If it was doing everything it could, it would have pushed this officer out of the rotation and replaced her with someone more likely to uphold the ideals the NSA claims it holds.

Filed Under: audits, nsa, spying, surveillance

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  1. identicon
    peter, 1 Dec 2017 @ 12:40pm

    Well I never

    Spy getting taught how spys can spy did not realise that spys get spy'd on.

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