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Merry Christmas: NSA Admits to a Whole Lot of Misconduct

By William Peacock, Esq. on December 29, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

On the 12th day of Christmas (well, more like Christmas Eve), the National Security Agency gave to us: 12 years of internal oversight documents outlining a number of instances of misconduct by NSA staff members.

What kind of misconduct? Government officials spying on ex-significant others, for one. Lazy queries that inadvertently scooped up Americans' data, for another. And for anyone who has been following the NSA revelations over the past couple of years, plenty of verification of the agency's alleged abuses.

Response to a FOIA Request

On Christmas Eve, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request proffered by the American Civil Liberties Union, the NSA released heavily redacted reports outlining numerous instances when the agency -- accidentally or on purpose -- spied on domestic targets. This isn't news to anyone who has been paying attention to the NSA over the past couple of years (the NSA wouldn't have made headlines by spying on foreigners), but it was news to hear the NSA admit it.

According to The Intercept, most of the report (which the NSA says it regularly compiles as part of its internal oversight process) contains instances of human error and oversight -- not malicious intentional domestic spying. In one particularly humorous accident, an NSA employee spied on his own cellphone, rather than his foreign target.

Documented Misconduct

But not all of the misconduct was accidental and/or harmless. The reports also include an instance of an NSA agent spying on her husband -- a situation so common that the NSA had a codeword for it: LOVEINT, reports The Intercept.

And it wasn't just the NSA proper: A U.S. Army sergeant was punished and demoted after he used one of the NSA's systems to monitor his wife, reports The Wall Street Journal. Other missteps included sending information to individuals who lacked the requisite security clearance.

Patrick Toomey, a staff attorney with the ACLU's National Security Project, said that the reports "show an urgent need for greater oversight by all three branches of government," rather than the current internal oversight, reports The Hill.

The NSA, as you might expect, defended the status quo and pointed to the agency's immediate response to the relatively few missteps over the last ten years of surveillance.

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