Most of the breaches (or incidents as they are called in the report) involve unauthorized surveillance of Americans anywhere in the world or foreign intelligence targets in the United States. They range from the minor to major violations of the law.
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. They shouldn’t hide anything the report indicates and should answer any questions if asked (but don’t give them information that would spur the questions).
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.
In the audit revealed by Snowden and the WAPO between June 2011 and May 2012, there were 2,776 incidents of unauthorized collection, storage, access to or distribution of legally protected communications. Most were unintended. Many involved failures of due diligence or violations of standard operating procedure. The most serious incidents included a violation of a court order and unauthorized use of data about more than 3,000 Americans and green-card holders.matter.
The causes and severity of NSA infractions vary widely. One in 10 incidents is attributed to a typographical error in which an analyst enters an incorrect query and retrieves data about U.S phone calls or e-mails.
But the more serious lapses include unauthorized access to intercepted communications, the distribution of protected content and the use of automated systems without built-in safeguards to prevent unlawful surveillance.
As for Congressional oversight there wasn’t any
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 late Thursday that the committee “can and should do more to independently verify that NSA’s operations are appropriate, and its reports of compliance incidents are accurate.”
Despite the quadrupling of the NSA’s oversight staff after a series of significant violations in 2009, the rate of infractions increased throughout 2011 and early 2012. An NSA spokesman declined to disclose whether the trend has continued since last year.
And the FISA Court cannot police the NSA either:
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.”
This Snowden release is different from the others, rather than leak a new program or information gathering system, this leak proves more than anything that the NSA is run by and staffed with humans who happen to make lots of mistakes.
While the majority of the “incidents” were accidental they are just as wrong as the deliberate violations of the 4th Amendment which seemed to be inherent in the PRISM and phone information gathering programs revealed earlier.
The FISA program MUST be revised. On one hand the need for intelligence is understandable in this age of worldwide Islamist terrorism, that is why I originally supported the program five years ago. However with the revelations of over reaching programs and unintentional screw-ups it has become obvious that the FISA program is a “monster” that cannot be controlled. Neither the courts nor the Congress who we trust for oversight can do its job because they only receive the information they are given.
A famous Ben Franklin quote has proven to be correct once again, “He who would trade liberty for some temporary security, deserves neither liberty nor security.”
The full Washington Post Story and all of its related articles (as well as the documents) can be found here. It would be well worth your time to read them all.