August 16, 2013
The National Security Agency broke the law and ignored privacy
protections thousands of times in each of the years since Congressional
leaders expanded the agency’s power in 2008, according to a new report
citing documents leaked by Edward Snowden.
The majority of the violations are related to unauthorized
surveillance on Americans or foreigners inside the United States,
conditions deemed illegal by executive order, according to a new report
from the Washington Post.
The account is based on top-secret documents and a May 2012 internal
NSA audit that found 2,776 infractions – including unauthorized
collection, storage, access to or distribution of legally protected
communications – in the preceding 12 months alone. The audit, originally
only meant to be seen by top NSA leaders, only accounted for violations
at NSA headquarters at Fort Meade, Virginia, and other locations in the
Washington DC region.
Three government sources told the Post that the 2,776 infractions
would in fact be much higher had the audit included all NSA data
collection centers. Each of the 2,776 violations could have potentially
encompassed thousands of communications.
“One key to the Washington Post story,” tweeted journalist Glenn Greenwald, who first published Snowden’s disclosures in June, “the reports are internal, NSA audits, which means high likelihood of both under-counting and white-washing.”
One of the most flagrant examples is a 2008 incident when a “large number”
of telephone calls were inadvertently intercepted because a programmer
erroneously typed “202” instead of “20,” Egypt’s national calling code,
according to a “quality assurance” memorandum never seen by NSA oversight staff.
Another time, the NSA kept 3,032 files they were ordered to destroy
by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court. Each
individual file included an undisclosed number of telephone call
records, according to the Post.