WASHINGTON – Some National Security Agency analysts deliberately ignored restrictions on their authority to spy on Americans multiple times in the past decade, contradicting Obama administration officials and lawmakers statements that no willful violations occurred.
Over the past decade, very rare instances of willful violations of NSAs authorities have been found, the NSA said in a statement to Bloomberg News. NSA takes very seriously allegations of misconduct, and cooperates fully with any investigations – responding as appropriate. NSA has zero tolerance for willful violations of the agencys authorities.
The incidents, chronicled in a new report by the NSAs inspector general, provide more evidence that U.S. agencies sometimes have violated legal and administrative restrictions on domestic spying, and may add to the pressure to bolster laws that govern intelligence activities.
The inspector general documented an average of one case per year over 10 years of intentionally inappropriate actions by people with access to the NSAs vast electronic surveillance systems, according to an official familiar with the findings. The incidents were minor, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified intelligence.
The deliberate actions didnt violate the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or the USA Patriot Act, the NSA said in its statement. Instead, they overstepped 1981 Executive Order 12333, issued by President Ronald Reagan, which governs U.S. intelligence operations.
The actions, said a second U.S. official briefed on them, were the work of overzealous NSA employees or contractors eager to prevent any encore to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The agency has taken steps to ensure that everyone understands legal and administrative boundaries, whom to consult when questions arise, and the consequences of violations or willful ignorance, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the inspector generals report is classified. The report was provided to the congressional intelligence committees, according to administration officials.
Intelligence officials have attributed most abuses of the FISA restrictions on the NSAs surveillance of communications to technical or inadvertent errors.
Legal opinions declassified Wednesday revealed that the NSA intercepted as many as 56,000 electronic communications a year of Americans who werent suspected of having links to terrorism, before a secret court that oversees surveillance found the operation unconstitutional in 2011.
In a declassified legal opinion from October 2011, the court said the agency substantially misrepresented the scope of surveillance operations three times in less than three years.
A May 2012 internal government audit found more than 2,700 violations involving NSA surveillance of Americans and foreigners over a one-year period. The audit was reported Aug. 16 by the Washington Post, citing documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.