Internal audit shows NSA broke privacy rules “thousands of times per year”

posted at 8:01 am on August 16, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

This Washington Post exposé surprises me only in one regard.  If the NSA and the Obama administration knew this internal audit existed, why not pull a Lois Lerner and do a Friday-night apology to defuse it?  Hey, that worked really well in the IRS targeting scandal, right?

We’ll get back to that in a moment:

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 documents, provided earlier this summer to The Washington Post by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, include a level of detail and analysis that is not routinely shared with Congress or the special court that oversees surveillance. In one of the documents, agency personnel are instructed to remove details and substitute more generic language in reports to the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Were these just inadvertent and innocent errors? The Post makes one of them sound that way, but …

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.

The NSA made a mistake that just happened to pick the nation’s capital for eavesdropping?  Didn’t the absence of Arabic and a preponderance of Southern-inflected English give the signals experts at NSA a clue that they’d tapped into the wrong pipe before listening to “a large number” of those calls? The report doesn’t indicate how many calls from members of Congress got scooped up in that “mistake,” but I’d bet at least some of those came from Capitol Hill offices or other official federal business.  How will that dispose some of the NSA’s defenders in the House and Senate?

For that matter, the FISA court will have an unpleasant surprise in the story, too:

In another case, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has authority over some NSA operations, did not learn about a new collection method until it had been in operation for many months. The court ruled it unconstitutional.

Let’s get back to the Friday night news dump strategy.  A week ago, Barack Obama held a rare press conference before starting his vacation, in which he proposed a few cosmetic reforms to NSA surveillance while insisting he wanted a “conversation” on NSA surveillance all along.  That claim fooled no one, and as if to tip everyone off to the charade, Obama asked James Clapper to appoint a panel to look into potential NSA abuses, even though Clapper deliberately misled Congress on the nature of NSA surveillance.

As Allahpundit noted last night on Twitter:

In other words, Obama tried to pull a Lois Lerner.  When he gets back from vacation, will anyone in the White House press corps ask him about this little charade?

Speaking of charades, the White House tried to get the Post to change quotes given in an on-the-record interview with John DeLong, the NSA’s compliance director, after the Obama administration figured out what the Post had.  DeLong was not quoted by name in the final article, but instead the Post attributed the quotes to a “senior NSA official … speaking with White House permission.”  The damaging quotes come at the end of Barton Gellman’s article:

The NSA uses the term “incidental” when it sweeps up the records of an American while targeting a foreigner or a U.S. person who is believed to be involved in terrorism. Official guidelines for NSA personnel say that kind of incident, pervasive under current practices, “does not constitute a . . . violation” and “does not have to be reported” to the NSA inspector general for inclusion in quarterly reports to Congress. Once added to its databases, absent other restrictions, the communications of Americans may be searched freely.

In one required tutorial, NSA collectors and analysts are taught to fill out oversight forms without giving “extraneous information” to “our FAA overseers.” FAA is a reference to the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which granted broad new authorities to the NSA in exchange for regular audits from the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and periodic reports to Congress and the surveillance court.

Using real-world examples, the “Target Analyst Rationale Instructions” explain how NSA employees should strip out details and substitute generic descriptions of the evidence and analysis behind their targeting choices.

“I realize you can read those words a certain way,” said the high-ranking NSA official who spoke with White House authority, but the instructions were not intended to withhold information from auditors. “Think of a book of individual recipes,” he said. Each target “has a short, concise description,” but that is “not a substitute for the full recipe that follows, which our overseers also have access to.”

And this is what the White House wanted the Post to use instead:

We want people to report if they have made a mistake or even if they believe that an NSA activity is not consistent with the rules. NSA, like other regulated organizations, also has a “hotline” for people to report — and no adverse action or reprisal can be taken for the simple act of reporting. We take each report seriously, investigate the matter, address the issue, constantly look for trends, and address them as well — all as a part of NSA’s internal oversight and compliance efforts. What’s more, we keep our overseers informed through both immediate reporting and periodic reporting. Our internal privacy compliance program has more than 300 personnel assigned to it: a fourfold increase since 2009. They manage NSA’s rules, train personnel, develop and implement technical safeguards, and set up systems to continually monitor and guide NSA’s activities. We take this work very seriously.

Golly, why not change it to, “We’re super-awesome and take the Boy Scout Oath of Honor three times daily”?  Did the White House think that edit would impress Congress after finding out that the NSA was scooping up their calls?

And this is what we discover from an internal NSA audit. Imagine what we’d find in an external audit.  Perhaps Congress might move that from imagination to reality tout-suite.

Update: Stoic Patriot notes in the comments that “intercepts” are not the same as listening in.  However, we are talking about two different things here in another sense. The domestic surveillance conducted by the NSA was (supposedly) on phone records that have nothing to do with real-time intercepts.  The NSA can conduct real-time intercepts, including listening in on calls and the content of digital messaging, on foreign communications; in fact, that is one of the NSA’s main purposes.  If the NSA conducted real-time intercepts of calls in Washington DC as this article states, I doubt that was limited to just the metadata from those calls.


Related Posts:

Breaking on Hot Air

Blowback

Note from Hot Air management: This section is for comments from Hot Air's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Hot Air management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment just because we let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with our terms of use may lose their posting privilege.

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

Obama’s america, thank you progressives for your courage in screaming Valerie Plame, Gitmo, Bush Lied, etc…

rob verdi on August 16, 2013 at 8:03 AM

BY the what, does this make Wapo a Wacko Bird?

rob verdi on August 16, 2013 at 8:04 AM

Obama’s best boo at DOJ, Eric “My People” Holder is on it!

Murphy9 on August 16, 2013 at 8:08 AM

Is anybody surprised?

gophergirl on August 16, 2013 at 8:09 AM

You’re so funny Ed….the whpc is going to follow up on this after his vacay

cmsinaz on August 16, 2013 at 8:12 AM

I absolutely cannot believe we still pay taxes to this corrupt and tyrannical government. Our government is filled with nothing but pure trash and we continue to just bend over and take it. I guess it’s true, you really do get the government you deserve.

Lizzy on August 16, 2013 at 8:13 AM

Another special prosecutor that holder will NOT call on

cmsinaz on August 16, 2013 at 8:15 AM

“If you can’t trust the government to follow the constitution when spying, we’re gonna have some problems.”

– President Tranparency

JetBoy on August 16, 2013 at 8:16 AM

‘If people can’t trust not only the executive branch but also don’t trust Congress, and don’t trust federal judges, to make sure that we’re abiding by the Constitution with due process and rule of law, then we’re going to have some problems here.’

- President Barack Obama, 7 June 2013

Washington, we have a problem.

Resist We Much on August 16, 2013 at 8:19 AM

And the system that brought you this is the system we all trust to take it back.

Limerick on August 16, 2013 at 8:22 AM

He’s broken no laws…. in kenya.

acyl72 on August 16, 2013 at 8:24 AM

Bush was president in 2008 so this is a Progressive issue

Rio Linda Refugee on August 16, 2013 at 8:24 AM

Remember last week when Obama said that we don’t have to worry…because there were laws in place to prevent this sort of thing?

And then remember that Obama-Messiah don’ need no stinkin’ laws.

This is why more and more Americans, not just the civil libertarians, are up in arms.

And to top it off, NSA is a Department of Defense activity…thus, the military is being used against the US civilian population…and the concept of limiting posse comitatus is purposefully ignored. No declaration of war, no federal suspension of Habeas Corpusthe Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion under our Constitution.

So…at what point is the chief executive, the top law enforcement officer of the Nation, i.e., the president, subject to law?

Apparently, Obama believes he is exempt…

We know better.

Now what?

coldwarrior on August 16, 2013 at 8:24 AM

Then there’s this…

The leader of the secret court that is supposed to provide critical oversight of the government’s vast spying programs said that its ability to do so is limited and that it must trust the government to report when it improperly spies on Americans.

The chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court said the court lacks the tools to independently verify how often the government’s surveillance breaks the court’s rules that aim to protect Americans’ privacy. Without taking drastic steps, it also cannot check the veracity of the government’s assertions that the violations its staff members report are unintentional mistakes.

“The FISC is forced to rely upon the accuracy of the information that is provided to the Court,” its chief, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, said in a written statement to The Washington Post. “The FISC does not have the capacity to investigate issues of noncompliance, and in that respect the FISC is in the same position as any other court when it comes to enforcing [government] compliance with its orders.”

No wonder the Court approves government requests 99.97% of the time.

Resist We Much on August 16, 2013 at 8:24 AM

Yawn,this is nothing.Kanye West gets booed at a baseball game.Can you imagine the horror?
///

docflash on August 16, 2013 at 8:24 AM

So if we’re not guilty of anything we have nothing to worry about, right?

Naturally Curly on August 16, 2013 at 8:24 AM

Well surprise, surprise. In the future, I will only vote for candidates who actively seek prosecution for those involved in this regime’s illegal activities.

Flange on August 16, 2013 at 8:26 AM

Could you imagine if Nixon had the NSA power Obama now possesses? Or, if it was revealed that “Bush’s NSA” was abusing this system?

Rovin on August 16, 2013 at 8:29 AM

“If you can’t trust the government to follow the constitution when spying, we’re gonna have some problems.”

President Tranparency

.
JetBoy on August 16, 2013 at 8:16 AM

.
Dang blast these right-wing bloggers, using the President’s own words against him.

listens2glenn on August 16, 2013 at 8:29 AM

What difference does it make?

listens2glenn on August 16, 2013 at 8:29 AM

I received another email from Nigeria last night with an offer to good to refuse. So am I communicating with foreign nationals and my email now subject to monitoring?

meci on August 16, 2013 at 8:31 AM

The NSA made a mistake that just happened to pick the nation’s capital for eavesdropping? Didn’t the absence of Arabic and a preponderance of Southern-inflected English give the signals experts at NSA a clue that they’d tapped into the wrong pipe before listening to “a large number” of those calls?

Actually, that’s the part I find the most believable of the entire article for being a mistake. Let’s have some fun and assume that the NSA was simply using SAS to query a database. You might find that their code looks something like this:

proc sql;
create table work.NSA_SuperSecretStuff as
select *
from mainsrvr.Phone_Calls
where phone like “20%”
;
quit;

The inclusion of that single percent-sign would be enough to obtain DC and Egypt, and could easily happen if it was being put inside a larger macro where the percent-sign is commonplace when running macros.

I’d also note that “intercepting” a large number of calls is also not the same thing as “listening” to a large number of calls.

Stoic Patriot on August 16, 2013 at 8:31 AM

There was this rodeo clown, recently…did nothing illegal nor unlawful…

Is the exercise of the First Amendment, now considered an unlawful activity?

Exercise of the Second has already become so in many states.

If there were to be Articles of Impeachment, proffered against Obama, they’d now be longer than the bill that became Obamacare.

Probably why the House cannot write them.

Easier to let it slide.

Just like Obamacare.

And we are supposed to feel “safe” with the NSA at Fort Meade, and at its billion dollar facility in Utah, and its new multi-million dollar “analysis center” at North Carolina State University designed to support Prism and other such programs…

Thought the enemy was al-Qaeda, and other terrorist groups, and the Russians, North Koreans, Chinese and a few others…not us.

Guess I was wrong.

coldwarrior on August 16, 2013 at 8:34 AM

Rovin
The dems and lsm would be calling for impeachment….oh the 24/7 outrage

The little bit of morning joe I saw didn’t touch this….it was all about gop not listening to joes advice

Rest of msdnc and CNN won’t touch this either

cmsinaz on August 16, 2013 at 8:35 AM

cmsinaz on August 16, 2013 at 8:35 AM

Every morning, Barry gets his mojo going with that M.C. Hammer classic…can’t touch this.

coldwarrior on August 16, 2013 at 8:37 AM

cmsinaz on August 16, 2013 at 8:35 AM

I noticed how the Morning Joe LIBERALS avoided the NSA story. They were more concerned with promoting Christy as “our” moderate candidate for 2016.

Rovin on August 16, 2013 at 8:40 AM

Coldwarrior. Heh :)

Yepper Rovin

Local radio station KFYI is talking about this now

cmsinaz on August 16, 2013 at 8:45 AM

Mr. Obama sure has redefined the role of president. There don’t seem to be many boundaries left, and if there are, he sidesteps them or does a runaround. And if he gets questioned about them, he lies.

scalleywag on August 16, 2013 at 8:45 AM

Scallywag and I’d a gop president attempts this, let the outrage begin

cmsinaz on August 16, 2013 at 8:46 AM

When I see all of this I think John Roberts.

tim c on August 16, 2013 at 8:46 AM

“We are not spying on Americans.”- Barack Obama

chewmeister on August 16, 2013 at 8:47 AM

Yawn,this is nothing.Kanye West gets booed at a baseball game.Can you imagine the horror?
///

docflash on August 16, 2013 at 8:24 AM

… booing racist hillbilly clingers?…libfreeorgan or Socialist Fog awake yet?

KOOLAID2 on August 16, 2013 at 8:52 AM

broke?

KOOLAID2 on August 16, 2013 at 8:53 AM

When I see all of this I think John Roberts.

tim c on August 16, 2013 at 8:46 AM

And Petraeus.

Resist We Much on August 16, 2013 at 8:57 AM

I wrote my Congresswoman (Foxx from NC) several weeks ago when she voted against the Amash amendment that made an effort to stop the rampant spying program. We were only 6 votes short of slowing the tyrannical descent. I got a letter back with a pat on my head explaining that I just didn’t understand the “big picture”. They spy on us for our own good, you see.

I wonder if these type of revelations make any difference to Congress. I think not. They are all drunk with imperial power. For the record, Foxx votes reliably conservative on 90% of issues. But she gets worse the longer she stays in Washington.

I’ll try calling again today. My spider sense tells me I am being targeted for an IRS audit.

kpguru on August 16, 2013 at 8:59 AM

The trick is to wiretap the secret court stooges judges first and then you can wiretap anybody.

viking01 on August 16, 2013 at 9:03 AM

In other words, Obama tried to pull a Lois Lerner. When he gets back from vacation, will anyone in the White House press corps ask him about this little charade?

Who cares about the presstitutes? They’re just the enthusiastic, treasonous propaganda arm of the Indonesian dog-eating retard. It’s the GOP House’s job to impeach the treasonous, criminal, rat bastid. It was their job to impeach him years ago.

ThePrimordialOrderedPair on August 16, 2013 at 9:06 AM

I wonder how Michelle Bachmann feels this morning. She claimed she had interrogated Keith Alexander, the guy who lied under oath before Congress, and was satisfied that the NSA was NOT violating the law in any such way. Such a little fool…

Resist We Much on August 16, 2013 at 9:09 AM

When I see all of this I think John Roberts.

tim c on August 16, 2013 at 8:46 AM

What do you mean? Being blackmailed? Forget it. Benedict Roberts was happy to help the Indonesian put America in the ground.

ThePrimordialOrderedPair on August 16, 2013 at 9:09 AM

From Benedict Roberts’ slimy smirk I get the impression he enjoyed raping the Constitution.

viking01 on August 16, 2013 at 9:14 AM

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who did not receive a copy of the 2012 audit until The Post asked her staff about it, said in a statement…

But, DiFi wants you to ‘Remain Calm and Carry On’ ‘cuz, like, um, ya know, there’s nothing for you to worry about.

Resist We Much on August 16, 2013 at 9:28 AM

Watergate was a third rate burglary of an office suite! Obama has broken into the private and intimate aspects of every
American’s life and assuredly used the info to destroy the citizens who oppose his criminal reign! Where is the outrage! This is like being led by Stalin, Lenin, or Hitler! This must be stopped sooner rather than later! These are constitutional violations that smack of treason to me! Obama should be impeached! Or tried for Treason!

Marco on August 16, 2013 at 9:32 AM

He may not be the anti Christ but he sure has some of the characteristics…lawless….

crosshugger on August 16, 2013 at 9:33 AM

He may not be the anti Christ but he sure has some of the characteristics…lawless….

crosshugger on August 16, 2013 at 9:33 AM

Many dupes consider him the Chicago messiah, he’s fully betrayed Israel, he calls betrayal of Benghazi, Fast & Furious, NSA wiretap mayhem, IRS intimidation, his Communist healthcare racket, treason on border sovereignty and Holder’s ghetto justice system all “phony scandals.”

If Barky isn’t the anti Christ he’s definitely the snake in Eden.

viking01 on August 16, 2013 at 9:38 AM

Just wondering if DC was the only “20*” area code that the NSA was “accidentally” listening in to. If it’s not, would there be any implications, knowing that “204″ is a Canadian area code, not a US one.

201 NJ N New Jersey: Jersey City, Hackensack
202 DC Washington, D.C.
203 CT Connecticut: Fairfield County and New Haven County; Bridgeport, New Haven
204 MB Canada: Manitoba
205 AL Central Alabama
206 WA W Washington state: Seattle and Bainbridge Island
207 ME Maine
208 ID Idaho
209 CA Cent. California: Stockton

Katja on August 16, 2013 at 10:09 AM

Can obama write his own laws?

Schadenfreude on August 16, 2013 at 11:09 AM

obama won like Putin and Chavez in 2012, with the NSA and threats from about 9-10 agencies.

He’s about as legitimate as Mugabe is in Zimbabwe.

Schadenfreude on August 16, 2013 at 11:11 AM

“If you can’t trust the government to follow the constitution when spying, we’re gonna have some problems.”

– President Tranparency

JetBoy on August 16, 2013 at 8:16 AM

Ayyyyyyyyupppp!
/s

yesiamapirate on August 16, 2013 at 11:14 AM

‘If people can’t trust not only the executive branch but also don’t trust Congress, and don’t trust federal judges, to make sure that we’re abiding by the Constitution with due process and rule of law, then we’re going to have some problems here.’

- President Barack Obama, 7 June 2013

Someone remind me again – why are the American people not in open revolt yet?

Midas on August 16, 2013 at 11:16 AM

NSA, like other regulated organizations, also has a “hotline” for people to report — and no adverse action or reprisal can be taken for the simple act of reporting. We take each report seriously, investigate the matter, address the issue, constantly look for trends, and address them as well

And then we persecute the whistle blower and promote the criminal bureaucrat like we always do.

jukin3 on August 16, 2013 at 11:16 AM

That’s like, 5 times a day.

Akzed on August 16, 2013 at 11:27 AM

I honestly wish someone, anyone out there would have the guts to get on national television and just say right out in the open what the majority of us already know!

Namely that Barack Obama is a blatant and deliberate LIAR!

pilamaye on August 16, 2013 at 11:29 AM

REVELATION:

“NSA Violates the Constitution / Law, is arm of tyranical government that has no respect for the Constitution / Law.”

Once upon a time American politicians would actually find out who was involved & hold them accountable by firing them, putting them in jail, or both.

Today, our politicians hold hearings that amount to political theater, delay, distract, and repeat until Americans’ short-term-memory kicks in & voters forget / lose interest.

easyt65 on August 16, 2013 at 11:34 AM

And Obama doesn’t understand why Americans don’t trust the government and why his poll numbers / approval rates have sunk into the ’30′s…

easyt65 on August 16, 2013 at 11:36 AM

And they wanted to impeach and imprison, and execute Bush for Abu Ghraib…

But, Obama?

Gets a pass.

Again.

And again.

coldwarrior on August 16, 2013 at 12:18 PM

So that’s why O called that presser last Friday. He must have known WaPo was ready to drop this and wanted to seem proactively pro-reform

Well the DoJ got all up in the AP’s business with unconstitutional phone surveillance etc. for releasing the Yemen bomb plot story earlier than the Obama admin wanted.

So the WaPo just rolled over, took it, and played ball. Letting Oscamma look all proactive by them not releasing this info until the admin said so.

So you see, the faux outrage over the violation of the constitution, even against the press, was very short lived among the liberal MSM.

Oxymoron on August 16, 2013 at 12:19 PM

Someone remind me again – why are the American people not in open revolt yet?

Midas on August 16, 2013 at 11:16 AM

Because for the last forever “conservatives” have been telling people how only the electoral process can save America from the never ending slide into tyranny. Remember just a short time ago when you could not type in George Washington led America’s Military in the Revolutionary War. Or that Lincoln was Commander in Chief of the United States of America Military for the Civil War?

Yes, the electoral process, also known as mob rule, is the only way to end the tyranny. Now we have a government with the power to incarcerate or ostracize anyone they see as an enemy of the currently elected officials in power by nothing more than typing their name into a government controlled spying database.

Judge Roberts? Who knows what government spying on him has to make him follow their commands.
Is Rubio under a blackmail threat?
How about Petraeus, was he before they finally decided they no longer needed him? On November 9, 2012, she was reported to have been involved in the extramarital affair with Petraeus that triggered his resignation as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency when it was discovered by the FBI.[3] Interesting, just after the election allowed Obama to win the election having kept Benghazi on the back burner.
How many of the suddenly happy to go along with Obamacare governors have dirt on them?

astonerii on August 16, 2013 at 12:24 PM

obama won like Putin and Chavez in 2012, with the NSA and threats from about 9-10 agencies.

He’s about as legitimate as Mugabe is in Zimbabwe.

Schadenfreude on August 16, 2013 at 11:11 AM

With the MSM, IRS, EPA, DoE, and NSA all within your complete control, anyone would be next to impossible to defeat.

They’ve got you coming and going. They can trash your business, your character, or your life with multi-pronged attacks if you don’t play ball.

Hey, just for good measure, let’s give them our medical records too!

Oxymoron on August 16, 2013 at 12:28 PM

Another outrage. Now what?

Mason on August 16, 2013 at 12:38 PM

The inclusion of that single percent-sign would be enough to obtain DC and Egypt, and could easily happen if it was being put inside a larger macro where the percent-sign is commonplace when running macros.

I’d also note that “intercepting” a large number of calls is also not the same thing as “listening” to a large number of calls.

Stoic Patriot on August 16, 2013 at 8:31 AM

Really?
201 NJ -5 N New Jersey: Jersey City, Hackensack (see split 973, overlay 551)
202 DC -5 Washington, D.C.
203 CT -5 Connecticut: Fairfield County and New Haven County; Bridgeport, New Haven (see 860)
204 MB -6 Canada: Manitoba (see overlay 431)
205 AL -6 Central Alabama (including Birmingham; excludes the southeastern corner of Alabama and the deep south; see splits 256 and 334)
206 WA -8 W Washington state: Seattle and Bainbridge Island (see splits 253, 360, 425; overlay 564)
207 ME -5 Maine
208 ID -7/-8 Idaho
209 CA -8 Cent. California: Stockton (see split 559)

astonerii on August 16, 2013 at 12:39 PM

Typical. The BBC is headlining this story, CNN not.

Limerick on August 16, 2013 at 12:48 PM

So if Dear Leader knew of this, did he blatantly lie to the American people in his latest presser..? Shocking!

d1carter on August 16, 2013 at 1:16 PM

its Friday!!! expect a WH news dump any minute now…

burserker on August 16, 2013 at 3:17 PM

Exactly whose calls are they monitoring? Can we see a list of the names? Does anyone know? This sounds really fishy to me.

MadJayhawk on August 17, 2013 at 11:25 PM