NSA: We’ve had willful violations, too

posted at 5:31 pm on August 24, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

After an internal NSA audit showing thousands of violations every year got exposed earlier this week, the agency and its defenders rushed to emphasize that these were inadvertent violations, accidents that comprised a microscopic percentage of the massive amounts of data the NSA reviews.  That may be small comfort as it is, but the story changed a little bit late yesterday.  The NSA now admits that “some” of its agents willfully violated the prohibitions on domestic surveillance, but that they were all disciplined … in some manner:

The National Security Agency said Friday that some of its analysts knowingly and deliberately exceeded its surveillance authority on occasion over the past decade and that those involved were disciplined.

“Very rare instances of willful violations of NSA’s authorities have been found,” the agency said in a statement. It said none of the abuses involved violations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or the USA Patriot Act. NSA violations of both laws have been highlighted in the leaks of classified information by former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden.

Two U.S. officials said one analyst was disciplined in years past for using NSA resources to track a former spouse. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

“NSA takes very seriously allegations of misconduct, and cooperates fully with any investigations – responding as appropriate,” the agency statement said. “NSA has zero tolerance for willful violations of the agency’s authorities.”

The WSJ’s Washington Wire reports that the biggest category of violations in is LOVEINT — intelligence gathering by NSA agents that target their sweethearts, would-be or actual:

National Security Agency officers on several occasions have channeled their agency’s enormous eavesdropping power to spy on love interests, U.S. officials said.

The practice isn’t frequent — one official estimated a handful of cases in the last decade — but it’s common enough to garner its own spycraft label: LOVEINT.

Spy agencies often refer to their various types of intelligence collection with the suffix of “INT,” such as “SIGINT” for collecting signals intelligence, or communications; and “HUMINT” for human intelligence, or spying.

The “LOVEINT” examples constitute most episodes of willful misconduct by NSA employees, officials said.

NSA officials also insist that these LOVEINT violations all took place while surveilling foreign communications, not the domestic signals surveillance programs currently at issue.  Of course, that applies only to those caught conducting LOVEINT.  How did they get caught? According to the NSA, they mostly just turned themselves in, sometimes prompted by routine polygraph testing.  At least based on what officials are saying, there doesn’t appear to be any other controls to stop that kind of activity.

Does that make anyone feel better? The polygraph screening is useful for catching people conducting surveillance that’s not sanctioned by the agency, and while that’s not infallible, it’s a useful screening strategy.  The problem, though, is that the NSA has the power to do this without effective outside checks and controls.  Even the Senate intelligence chair didn’t know about this audit until it was made public, and until now we didn’t know about LOVEINT.  What happens if the NSA and leadership above that level decide to use that power to go after domestic opponents — say, perhaps, Tea Party groups on the Right or MoveOn on the Left? If the surveillance is sanctioned, why would polygraphers ask about it?  This is the problem with the “trust us” policy, and why the founders wisely built our political system on checks and balances from the beginning.

On the other hand, if you find yourself surveilled by the NSA, you can just convince yourself that an agent really, really likes you.  Snoop With Love!


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The NSA now admits that “some” of its agents willfully violated the prohibitions on domestic surveillance, but that they were all disciplined … in some manner

Lemme guess, more vacation?

Cindy Munford on August 24, 2013 at 5:38 PM

Since the NSA doesn’t count the 120 million Verizon customers metadata they are monitoring on a daily basis in this number, I am wondering if this LOVEINT would be counted if they checked up on who their snugglebunny was talking to?

sharrukin on August 24, 2013 at 5:39 PM

The NSA now admits that “some” of its agents willfully violated the prohibitions on domestic surveillance, but that they were all disciplined … in some manner:

…just a few rouges again!…in the White House?

KOOLAID2 on August 24, 2013 at 5:46 PM

NSA officials also insist that these LOVEINT violations all took place while surveilling foreign communications, not the domestic signals surveillance programs currently at issue.

So these agents all had foreign sweethearts?

What happens if the NSA and leadership above that level decide to use that power to go after domestic opponents — say, perhaps, Tea Party groups on the Right or MoveOn on the Left?

And this doesn’t need to be higherups ordering the spying. What if an agent is politically motivated on his own, or has a relative who is? Or a grudge with a neighbor?

rbj on August 24, 2013 at 5:47 PM

they were all disciplined … in some manner:

…paid leave?

KOOLAID2 on August 24, 2013 at 5:47 PM

That scene with Bluto peering at Mandy Pepperidge as she strips is soooo memorable! Too bad it had to be perverted with NSA perverts but it’s a great peeping tom pervert allusion. PERVERTS!
.
Thank you, Mary Louise Weller.

ExpressoBold on August 24, 2013 at 5:51 PM

Does this mean that Chris Muir’s Day by Day cartoon has a lot of truth to it. It shows DEA “agents” getting their porn interests satisfied by spying on un- and semi- dressed ladies.

Old Country Boy on August 24, 2013 at 5:53 PM

they were all disciplined … in some manner:
…paid leave?

KOOLAID2 on August 24, 2013 at 5:47 PM

No, they brought in their official resident islamic nun and she gave them three raps across their knuckles with a ruler and them promoted them to management.

Old Country Boy on August 24, 2013 at 5:56 PM

Somebody’s gotta keep tabs on Reggie Love.

iwasbornwithit on August 24, 2013 at 6:42 PM

OT, I know, but thx for that pic of the beloved Belushi. I needed to smile today. In fact, gonna go pop in that movie right now. :D

Ozprey on August 24, 2013 at 6:53 PM

Drip, drip, drip.

KMC1 on August 24, 2013 at 7:04 PM

blink on August 24, 2013 at 6:10 PM

Unfortunately too many in the public can be bought off with the promise of some kind of largess from the government.

Cindy Munford on August 24, 2013 at 7:09 PM

White House: Trust us.

EEprom on August 24, 2013 at 7:13 PM

Yeah, right. The NSA loves us.

WannabeAnglican on August 24, 2013 at 7:33 PM

Either the anti-American abomination NSA dies or America does.

“In the end, there can be only one”.

The NSA is as incompatible with America as is Islam and for many of the same reasons.

VorDaj on August 24, 2013 at 7:41 PM

To the Founding fathers, the NSA would be like the hated King George on crack.

VorDaj on August 24, 2013 at 7:43 PM

You know, besides the fact they are abusing authority, they are also putting our nation at risk.

They are being paid to actually watch the enemy. To safeguard our nation from terrorist attack… not to watch the current President’s political enemies or the girl they like next door.

JellyToast on August 24, 2013 at 7:43 PM

Life to America!

Death to the NSA!

VorDaj on August 24, 2013 at 7:44 PM

Up with America!

Down with the NSA!

VorDaj on August 24, 2013 at 7:46 PM

Besides being against the intel laws, LOVEINT is essentially electronic stalking. It isn’t “willful misconduct” it is a crime no matter how you slice it. But I’d bet anything that disciplinary action didn’t involve actual firing.

And at this point can we really believe the NSA when they say they’re doing a good job at policing their own?

Happy Nomad on August 24, 2013 at 8:17 PM

If Snowden can cover his tracks, so too can any of these other people. Between that and deliberate back doors in programs, it is likely we will never know the true extent of government intruding on political enemies communications and using that to shut down the opposition party. There really is very little different between Chavez’ thugs and Obama’s thugs. I also would not have been comfortable with Bush’s. McCain’s or Romney’s thugs either. As for Bush, I was against the Homeland Security law and the TSA spawned from it. I have no problem with NSA having access to wholly external communications of non citizens, but have always been on the side of American Citizens get 100% coverage of the Bill of Rights under all circumstances, short of ticking time bomb and while they are actively in a shooting war against the United States of America.

John Roberts, McCain, Petreaus, how many of those in our government are free from the the Thug in Chief’s spies having dirt on them?

John, its a tax Roberts most certainly seems to be under threat to come up with his hocus pocus judicial findings.
John McCain certainly seemed to go from Fighter to promoter, Petreaus went from Obama cheer leader to outed and vilified in short order after Obama cleared the Benghazi election test. What about Romney? Why did he bother to run if he did not really want the job? Why did he spend so much effort beating down any conservative opposition, to becoming like McCain, a near promoter of Obama in the general election period? Notice this time around, he did not spend his own money like he did in 2008. Instead he used other people’s money for the run.

astonerii on August 24, 2013 at 10:06 PM

Any excuse will serve a tyrant

-Aesop

roflmmfao

donabernathy on August 24, 2013 at 11:29 PM

“Very rare instances of willful violations of NSA’s authorities have been found,” the agency said in a statement.

This is only possible as the NSA is spying on people first, and asking for warrents later.

The entire NSA should be shut down for the good of the country.

Freddy on August 25, 2013 at 11:11 AM

The entire NSA should be shut down for the good of the country.

Exactly what an enemy of the United States wants. To destroy the most effective and least politically influenced intelligence agency we’ve ever had.

Today: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/08/25/german-magazine-nsa-spied-on-united-nations/

I’m sure Snowden and Wikileaks will say in their time-honored passive-aggressive way: “It wasn’t us. We are only your heroes protecting the American people.”

rlwo2008 on August 25, 2013 at 4:50 PM

Exactly what an enemy of the United States wants. To destroy the most effective and least politically influenced intelligence agency we’ve ever had.

rlwo2008 on August 25, 2013 at 4:50 PM

That is a really low bar to pass. I would prefer it to be completely and totally uninfluenced by politics. Kind of like the Military should.

astonerii on August 25, 2013 at 6:12 PM

A lot of babies are being dumped with the bathwater, so to speak.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/08/25/us-usa-security-nsa-un-idUSBRE97O0DD20130825

unclesmrgol on August 25, 2013 at 9:00 PM

This is only possible as the NSA is spying on people first, and asking for warrents later.

The entire NSA should be shut down for the good of the country.

Freddy on August 25, 2013 at 11:11 AM

No. It’s only possible if the post-warrant procedures are in place, and are being abused.

We just lost the ability to spy on the UN so you guys could twist your panties over LOVEINT.

unclesmrgol on August 25, 2013 at 9:02 PM