The ACLU received a long awaited gift from the NSA on Christmas Eve. It was a treasure trove of documents which had been requested under the Freedom of Information Act detailing instances where the agency failed to follow proper protocols and collected information which should ostensibly have been left untouched. But the timing of the release was immediately criticized. For some reason they seemed to think it rather fishy that the documents were delivered late on Christmas eve while the nation was focused on the NYPD funerals if they were paying attention to the news at all.

The National Security Agency used the holiday lull to “minimise the impact” of a tranche of documents by releasing them on Christmas Eve, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said on Friday.

The documents, which were released in response to a legal challenge by the ACLU under the Freedom of Information Act, are heavily – in some places totally –redacted versions of reports by the NSA to the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board dating back to 2007.

A court ordered the documents released this past summer, and a 22 December deadline for that release was agreed upon, according to Patrick Toomey, a staff attorney at the ACLU’s national security project, because the NSA said it needed “six or seven months” to complete its review and redaction process.

A spokesperson for the NSA said that the 22 December deadline, “which was agreed to by all parties,” was met.

But better late than never, eh? And oh, what a juicy haul they received. The ACLU is now in possession of definitive agency reports such as these:

One entry, from the 4th quarter of 2008, reads: “On [redacted] [redacted] used the US SIGINT System (USSS) to locate [redacted] believed to be kidnapped [redacted] The selectors were tasked before authorization was obtained from NSA. After the NSA Office of General Counsel (OGC) denied the authorization request, [redacted] was found. He had not been kidnapped.”

Another reads: “On [redacted] during an experimental collection and processing effort, NSA analysts collected [several lines of text redacted.] The messages were deleted [redacted] when the error was identified.”

“On [redacted] occasions during the fourth quarter, selectors were incorrectly tasked because of typographical errors.”

I’m still not entirely clear as to what the ACLU was expecting to get. This is the NSA. They’re not exactly in the business of trafficking in intelligence which can be flushed out into the public eye. There’s also the question of how much of their internal procedures and tools could be revealed without rendering them useless. This type of information can be shared with closed congressional hearings – and frequently is – but the extent of the material they’re going to turn over to the ACLU is clearly limited.

Still, they do make a good point about the document dump’s timing. These things are generally done on a Friday evening to escape the notice of everyone but nosy bloggers (not that that does much good these days) but this is even better. Christmas eve is about the nadir of news coverage and the public’s attention span. Just check Hot Air’s site traffic if you don’t believe me. I’m not sure if the NSA did this in a serious effort to tamp down public criticism or just as a poke in the eye to the ACLU. I asked one of our sources inside the agency, and he clarified for us by saying [redacted].