Washington Post: 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 statute 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.
It turns out that we've made it so easy to spy on Americans that it happens accidentally, According to the report, "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."
What's most disturbing here is that oversight -- or the lack thereof -- is irrelevant. What happens in the NSA stays in the NSA, apparently. If you wind up scooping up a lot of data, just sweep it under the rug and move on. There's no reason that congress needs to know. It's a criminal's view of the law -- it's only illegal when the cops know about it. They aren't even sharing this info with the ultra-secret FISA court.
The good news for the White House is that they're off the hook on this one. This is all the NSA. The president is responsible for the NSA in a "the buck stops here" sense, since it's an administrative agency under the executive wing of government. But that's pretty much theoretical here, since you can hardly be held responsible for actions that are being kept from you.
All of which points to the importance of Edward Snowden and the act of whistleblowing in itself. There were a total of 2,776 of these incidents and word of none of them would've left a trash can deep in NSA HQ. if it weren't for Snowden. Congress wouldn't know this, the FISA court wouldn't know this, the White House wouldn't know this.
"This story remains a vitally important (if complicated) one," writes legal blogger Will Bunch. "If you look at the big picture, this is a remarkably positive time for progressivism in America, as we finally see momentum to roll back things -- like the 'war on drugs,' militaristic policing and tactics like stop-and-frisk, and even the post-9/11 surveillance state -- that it seemed might never get rolled back. On the last front, this is happening because of one man, Edward Snowden. He is still what I called him on Day One, an American patriot."
[photo by ubiquit23]