Contrary to earlier assertions by President Obama that the NSA has never abused its authority, an internal audit of the agency demonstrates thousands of cases of abuse. According to documents leaked by Edward Snowden to the Washington Post the NSA has, indeed, illegally spied on American citizens. Not only has abuse occurred, but it has occurred at least 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 statute 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.
According to Obama “we don’t have a domestic spying program” but the internal audit demonstrates the NSA is under no such impression, and when the agency mistakenly spied on Americans it didn’t feel the need to tell Congress. Such as when the NSA spied on everyone in the DC area code during an election year.
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 the 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.
Was this a mistake or an action that was part of a broader program of gaining leverage on politicians? In any case, the NSA didn’t feel the need to tell anyone – including Congress – about its illegal activity.
The NSA is blaming human error and a lack of safeguards within the system to prevent those errors. Whether you chose to believe that or anything the NSA says at this point is up to you.
It is also worth noting that the audit obtained by the Post only includes the Ft. Meade headquarters, not all of the NSA. The total number of abuses for the entire agency is likely much higher.