AP scoop: NSA mistakenly collected as many as 56,000 e-mails annually from Americans having nothing to do with terrorism

posted at 5:21 pm on August 21, 2013 by Allahpundit

The (inevitable?) sequel to WaPo’s splashy Snowden-sourced feature last week about the NSA violating its privacy rules thousands of times over the past few years.

How many errors are too many?

In the opinion by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court denouncing the practice, the judge wrote that the NSA had advised the court that “the volume and nature of the information it had been collecting is fundamentally different than what the court had been led to believe,” and went on to say the court must consider “whether targeting and minimization procedures comport with the 4th Amendment.”

For instance, two senior intelligence officials said, when an American logged into an email server and looked at the emails in his or her inbox, that screen shot of the emails could be collected, together with Internet transactions by a terrorist suspect being targeted by the NSA – because that suspect’s communications were being sent on the same fiber optic cable by the same Internet provider, in a bundled packet of data.

These interceptions of innocent Americans’ communications were happening when the NSA accessed Internet information “upstream,” meaning off of fiber optic cables or other channels where Internet traffic traverses the U.S. telecommunications system…

Under court order, the NSA resolved the problem by creating new ways to detect when emails by people within the U.S. were being intercepted, and separated those batches of communications. It also developed new ways to limit how that data could be accessed or used. The agency also agreed to only keep these bundled communications for possible later analysis for a 2-year period, instead of the usual 5-year retention period.

Actually, this isn’t a follow-up to the WaPo story, it’s an elaboration of it. Bart Gellman, the WaPo author, flagged this incident as “one of the most serious violations” of NSA privacy protocols that he was aware of. According to an internal newsletter that Gellman saw, NSA initially argued to the FISA Court that it couldn’t feasibly filter out Americans’ e-mails from foreign ones via the upstream method of collection. Collecting the latter necessarily meant incidental collection of some of the former. Too bad, said the court; it’s still a Fourth Amendment violation. Whereupon, per this new AP story, the NSA went on to figure out how to separate the e-mails after all. Allegedly. With the NSA, you never can tell exactly what’s happening.

How did the FISA Court know the NSA was doing this, though? Because — the NSA, in policing itself for infringements on Americans’ privacy, told them. Benjamin Wittes flagged that, plus the fact that we’re talking about an error rate of several thousand violations “among the billions and billions of communications the NSA interacts with every year,” as proof that WaPo’s bombshell about an NSA seemingly gone rogue was overhyped. Here’s how Wittes thinks the feds should have responded to the story:

Shameful as it is that these documents were leaked, they actually should give the public great confidence both in NSA’s internal oversight mechanisms and in the executive and judicial oversight mechanisms outside the agency. They show no evidence of any intentional spying on Americans or abuse of civil liberties. They show a low rate of the sort of errors any complex system of technical collection will inevitably yield. They show robust compliance procedures on the part of the NSA. And they show an earnest, ongoing dialog with the FISA Court over the parameters of the agency’s legal authority and a commitment both to keeping the court informed of activities and to complying with its judgments on their legality. While it took a criminal act to make this record public, we are deeply proud of this record and make no apologies for it.

Or, as Marc Ambinder put it:

The fact remains, though, that the primary governmental check on the NSA is … the NSA. The upstream problem was solved only because the agency volunteered the information to the FISA Court. Is there another federal arm that operates that way? Which reminds me: Read this fascinating Miami Herald story from yesterday about criminal defense lawyers suing the NSA to access digital communications that might prove their clients’ innocence. The inculpatory potential of the NSA’s database is obvious, but there’s exculpatory potential too: If the NSA has records proving that a defendant was using his cellphone in California at a moment when a murder for which he’s being tried was being committed in New York, then obviously cops have the wrong man. And the government, under Brady v. Maryland, has a constitutional duty of due process to turn over exculpatory evidence in its possession to the defense. Except, I guess, for the NSA — because they’re a government within a government, acting mostly independently of standard legal principles, a court presumably will find that defendants have no legal right to access their database even if it risks a wrongful conviction. How do you solve that problem of near-total independence?


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I’d just as soon send $50 to the Al Qaeda 747 Fuel Fund as defend anything this administration does, but 56000 emails a year is such a small number that you have to think 50% of ‘em are Viagra spam.

JEM on August 21, 2013 at 5:24 PM

56 k out of a trillion. wow. They suck.

Politricks on August 21, 2013 at 5:24 PM

I’d sooner contribute $50 to the Al Qaeda 747 Fuel Fund as defend anything this administration does, but 56000 emails a year is such a small number as to be insignificant.

JEM on August 21, 2013 at 5:27 PM

No, really!!! The invasion of Poland and France was an accident too !!!

…. and the hack judges whom have signed off on these various wiretaps, eavesdroppings and email intrusions… well they were, er, “just following orders.”

viking01 on August 21, 2013 at 5:27 PM

More believable if you change the title to as few as 56 k.

chemman on August 21, 2013 at 5:30 PM

They have all of mine can I sue? It’s the principle not the content.

tim c on August 21, 2013 at 5:32 PM

How many emails did they deliberately collect that had nothing to do with terrorism?

alchemist19 on August 21, 2013 at 5:32 PM

“How many people have you slept with?”
“Uh, 4.”

Always multiply the response for accuracy.

beatcanvas on August 21, 2013 at 5:33 PM

I’m not happy with any errors made by the NSA. Still, 56,000 emails will be sent in the U.S. in less time that it takes me to type this post. The NSA needs to fix these errors, but I’m not going to lose sleep over this. Yet.

joejm65 on August 21, 2013 at 5:35 PM

56000 emails a year is such a small number as to be insignificant.

JEM on August 21, 2013 at 5:27 PM

Unless, of course, those include your e-mails and maybe ones your political opponent or major business competitors might find useful.

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

——— Fourth Amendment to the Constitution

viking01 on August 21, 2013 at 5:36 PM

Here’s the $64,000 Question…

Is it possible to match up any of these emails with known Tea party, Libertarian, GOP or other “non-Progressive Liberal” citizens? If so, what is the percentage?

Why are these emails and data being kept for “only” two years?

Why are they kept at all?

Back in the day, whilst yours truly was sitting pos off in some cold dreary hellbox, any NSA intercepts of known US entities had to be deleted, dumped, scrubbed immediately upon discovery they were US entities….absent a valid order [extremely rare] to continue intercept…and then any such intercepts were bigoted, and handed over as they came in to be properly destroyed upon conclusion of the program, project, event.

But, we’ve truly nothing to worry about. President Obama stated quite clearly that there are all sorts of laws in place to prevent this sort of stuff from ever ever happening…

So, no biggee? Right?

coldwarrior on August 21, 2013 at 5:38 PM

“Trust me, it never happened.” – Clapper the Perjurer

If they were lying then they’re bound to be lying now.

viking01 on August 21, 2013 at 5:38 PM

My favorite part of this is that real terrorists–you know, the ones who are actually smart and competent and therefore a real threat–wouldn’t be caught dead using insecure digital communications like email anyway.

Armin Tamzarian on August 21, 2013 at 5:40 PM

Does this go under the unexpectedly category?

Bmore on August 21, 2013 at 5:41 PM

How do you solve that problem of near-total independence?

Why is this a problem? As long as the Dems are in power it’s ok.

happytobehere on August 21, 2013 at 5:41 PM

“NSA Admits It Collected 56,000 Emails Per Year From Americans With No Terror Connections…”
…and, as a MAJOR COINCIDENCE, most of the e-mails were from the exact same conservative, pro-life and Christian groups targeted by the OBOZO regime’s criminal harassment, extortion and thuggish IRS.

Hey, lunatic-leftists: can you say “TOTALITARIAN POLICE STATE”?

TeaPartyNation on August 21, 2013 at 5:44 PM

“…Not wittingly.”

iwasbornwithit on August 21, 2013 at 5:45 PM

Why should we believe it was only 56,000? Never told the truth before so I’m skeptical as this number came from them…

sandee on August 21, 2013 at 5:45 PM

WaPo, 2013

Lawyers said Bush couldn’t spy on Americans. He did it anyway.

Del Dolemonte on August 21, 2013 at 5:47 PM

They: The makers of the Constitution: conferred, as against the government, the right to be let alone — the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men.

roflmmfao

donabernathy on August 21, 2013 at 5:49 PM

What is truly stunning is that anyone believes that number.

Smiles on August 21, 2013 at 5:49 PM

The 56K is the NSA’s figure. But at least we know that they have always been nothing but honest with the American people about their activities. /

iwasbornwithit on August 21, 2013 at 5:49 PM

How did the FISA Court know the NSA was doing this, though? Because — the NSA, in policing itself for infringements on Americans’ privacy, told them.

Yeah, government policing itself is always the best way.

Paging Richard Windsor (which I think is even a bigger scandal).

Happy Nomad on August 21, 2013 at 5:53 PM

It’s okay because blowhard Peter King insists it’s all perfectly fine.

John the Libertarian on August 21, 2013 at 5:54 PM

NSA mistakenly collected as many as 56,000 e-mails annually from Americans having nothing to do with terrorism

And that was just from me.

VorDaj on August 21, 2013 at 5:55 PM

When the actual figure leaks out is will probably be 56 million or 56 billion and Barky’s pimps Jay Carney, Brian Williams, Diane Sawyer, George Stuffinenvelopes, Angria Mitchell, Scott Pelley, Bob Schieffer, Wolfie Blitzer and Gwen Ifill will claim the 56k figure was “only a typo.”

viking01 on August 21, 2013 at 5:58 PM

Every single employee of the N-Stasi-A is a member of a criminal anti-American gang, that is making war on the American people, and just following orders is no excuse since Nuremberg.

VorDaj on August 21, 2013 at 5:59 PM

My favorite part of this is that real terrorists–you know, the ones who are actually smart and competent and therefore a real threat–wouldn’t be caught dead using insecure digital communications like email anyway.
Armin Tamzarian on August 21, 2013 at 5:40 PM

Do you ever get anything right? Is this just your “hunch” that mastermind terrorists are using some kind of impenetrable communications network?

The Boston Bombers had public YouTube accounts where they favorited various al Qaeda inspirational videos. The Fort Hood shooter gave a PowerPoint presentation about his need to kill his fellow soldiers. And we didn’t do a damned thing about it.

Our problem is not a lack of “communication interception”, it’s simply the inability to recognize threats as they are staring us in the face.

The NSA is a Cold War relic that has the potential to be a fantastic instrument to stifle domestic political dissent. The upside of its “anti-terror” operations are dubious at best.

happytobehere on August 21, 2013 at 6:01 PM

The NSA is a Cold War relic that has the potential to be a fantastic instrument to stifle domestic political dissent. The upside of its “anti-terror” operations are dubious at best.

happytobehere on August 21, 2013 at 6:01 PM

Makes one wonder why the NSA is building a million square foot “facility” in Utah doesn’t it?

sandee on August 21, 2013 at 6:05 PM

Anyone who’s for this is a traitor to freedom.

Unfortunately many on the right are too.

The terrorists have already won.

obama completed their dreams. Bush sharted them.

Schadenfreude on August 21, 2013 at 6:07 PM

meh

even if you were to add three zeroes to their number, it still wouldn’t be even enough to be considered statistical noise

Doctor Zhivago on August 21, 2013 at 6:09 PM

If the NSA has records proving that a defendant was using his cellphone in California at a moment when a murder for which he’s being tried was being committed in New York, then obviously cops have the wrong man.

Wouldn’t the defendant’s cell phone provider be able to provide the defendant’s cell phone usage records to the defendant’s attorney? I don’t really see how what the NSA might have collected on a particular criminal defendant’s phone/email records isn’t obtainable directly from the defendant’s communications provider(s).

Bitter Clinger on August 21, 2013 at 6:10 PM

“mistakenly”

If that makes you feel better…

Sharr on August 21, 2013 at 6:12 PM

Drop in the bucket. Can you guys stop being played by the anti-American left on this? It’s embarrassing how badly everyone is falling for this demonization of the NSA.

Count to 10 on August 21, 2013 at 6:12 PM

“If you haven’t done anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about.” South Carolina Dodo Bird RINO

“If we don’t cave in, Obama’s just going to issue an executive order” Florida Rat Betrayer & Coward.

Except maybe:

Blackmail
Targeting
Spamming
Hacking
Profiling
Political Payback
Identity Theft
Insider Trading
Patent Theft
Mind Phucking
Industrial Espionage
Bank Account Draining
Losing Insurance Coverage (email reveals you have cancer and CIA rat sells info to your insurance company.Losing Computer Control (emails reveal passwords that are sold to hackers who use info to take control of your computer–your computer commits crimes and you get blamed for it.
Imprisonment b(see above)
Death (your enemies find your hiding place)

MaiDee on August 21, 2013 at 6:13 PM

Bush sharted them.
Schadenfreude on August 21, 2013 at 6:07 PM

Please tell me that wasn’t a typo.

happytobehere on August 21, 2013 at 6:14 PM

meh

even if you were to add three zeroes to their number, it still wouldn’t be even enough to be considered statistical noise

Doctor Zhivago on August 21, 2013 at 6:09 PM

And even if you were to add three zeros to their number, making 4 into 4,000 the number of Americans killed at Benghazi wouldn’t be even enough to be considered statistical noise by comparison to America’s over 315,000,000 population. So I guess you agree with Hillary ‘what difference does it make?” Clinton. I don’t.

VorDaj on August 21, 2013 at 6:17 PM

I’d sooner contribute $50 to the Al Qaeda 747 Fuel Fund as defend anything this administration does, but 56000 emails a year is such a small number as to be insignificant.

JEM on August 21, 2013 at 5:27 PM

56K? Pffft. My twenty-something stepdaughter does that in a month.

davidk on August 21, 2013 at 6:20 PM

Yes, htbh, that was a typo. Thanks, and very sorry.

S/b “Bush started them”.

———–
Drudge now – what a world, full of foolish sheepleton.

NSA COLLECTED 1000S OF INTERNET COMMUNICATIONS WITH NO TERROR CONNECTION….

CAN SPY ON 75% OF ONLINE TRAFFIC…

*Retains content of emails between citizens…

*Domestic phone calls made via Internet…

‘Homeland Security’ tests face-scanning BOSS…

Local Cops to Scan Crowds…

Company Posts Ad on CRAISGLIST Seeking ‘Surveillance Role Players’…

New Zealand Passes Law Allowing Domestic Spying…

Malaysia Seeks to Expand Spying Powers…

Schadenfreude on August 21, 2013 at 6:21 PM

Drop in the bucket. Can you guys stop being played by the anti-American left on this? It’s embarrassing how badly everyone is falling for this demonization of the NSA.

Count to 10 on August 21, 2013 at 6:12 PM

Let’s try a little thought experiment here, which I think is very much to the point. Say a bank robber has robbed a thousand banks and he says he only pistol whipped someone just one time, so that’s only 0.1% of the time. Do we give him a medal or do we say “You shouldn’t be robbing banks at all. Maybe the one owned by the mob, but not the other 999.”

VorDaj on August 21, 2013 at 6:23 PM

All of you who are for this, deserve full tyrannies.

Schadenfreude on August 21, 2013 at 6:23 PM

Drop in the bucket. Can you guys stop being played by the anti-American left on this? It’s embarrassing how badly everyone is falling for this demonization of the NSA.

Count to 10 on August 21, 2013 at 6:12 PM

It’s truly beyond embarrassing that anyone with a right mind can type this. It’s truly an incredible indication that freedom the world over is lost. You all deserve what’s upon you.

Schadenfreude on August 21, 2013 at 6:24 PM

If the NSA has records proving that a defendant was using his cellphone in California at a moment when a murder for which he’s being tried was being committed in New York, then obviously cops have the wrong man.

Wouldn’t the defendant’s cell phone provider be able to provide the defendant’s cell phone usage records to the defendant’s attorney? I don’t really see how what the NSA might have collected on a particular criminal defendant’s phone/email records isn’t obtainable directly from the defendant’s communications provider(s).

Bitter Clinger on August 21, 2013 at 6:10 PM

The providers don’t keep the records as long as the NSA does.

Syzygy on August 21, 2013 at 6:27 PM

The National Spy Agency is the American left and on crack.

VorDaj on August 21, 2013 at 6:28 PM

NSA head Alexander denies plans for Drone Panels.

VorDaj on August 21, 2013 at 6:33 PM

How many emails did they deliberately collect that had nothing to do with terrorism?

alchemist19 on August 21, 2013 at 5:32 PM

I’m sure they drill down for key words… like Obama Sucks. He is very effete and very thin in the skin.

Key West Reader on August 21, 2013 at 6:33 PM

Went to dinner “once” and only “once” with a guy that works for DHS. He was all high and mighty in his position of power – really a pithy jerk. But he kept saying over and over, “if you have nothing to hide then you don’t need to worry”.

Uh huh.

Key West Reader on August 21, 2013 at 6:36 PM

The Socialist regime is just testing the waters to see what else they can get away with that is unconstitutional. This is how they know where, when, and what political party people belong to. Criminal scumbags every one of them. They should be physically arrested and charged in a citizen court of law.

F_This on August 21, 2013 at 6:36 PM

I take it that the 120 million Verizon customers having their mail collected don’t actually count as being part of this 56,000? That after all is metadata and isn’t included in this NSA issued number.

sharrukin on August 21, 2013 at 6:38 PM

Maybe I missed this part in the article, how many intrusions were done with a search warrant?

DDay on August 21, 2013 at 6:42 PM

56000 emails a year is such a small number as to be insignificant.

JEM on August 21, 2013 at 5:27 PM

Unless, of course, those include your e-mails and maybe ones your political opponent or major business competitors might find useful.

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

——— Fourth Amendment to the Constitution

viking01 on August 21, 2013 at 5:36 PM

…or Governor Romney’s, say through September to November of 2012.

slickwillie2001 on August 21, 2013 at 6:48 PM

The point here is that 0bama and the Left spent seven years prior to 2008 all acting like they were opposed to the means of gathering intelligence, and people went to the polls last year actually *still* thinking Democrats were 180 degrees opposed to the way the mean old GOP was doing domestic surveillance. The amount of emails is trivial. They were supposed to not be gathering a bloody thing, were they actually not lying their ever-loving asses off.

Sekhmet on August 21, 2013 at 7:01 PM

as many as? LOL you seriously reported that number here as the low ball estimate?

astonerii on August 21, 2013 at 7:03 PM

“Errors”? They’re lying through their teeth!

TfromV on August 21, 2013 at 7:22 PM

As long as they say “oops!”, all is forgiven.

anuts on August 21, 2013 at 7:30 PM

If I had downloaded that many songs, I bet the DOJ would be interested in me. As it is only a violation of the Bill of Rights, nothing to see here.

aniptofar on August 21, 2013 at 9:45 PM

So there are 56,000 people who are more than 3 degrees of separation away form someone who is suspected of being a terrorist?

Is that all of them?

gekkobear on August 21, 2013 at 11:19 PM