NSA Confirms Improper Surveillance of Americans

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On December 24, the National Security Agency (NSA) released 12 years of internal reports that detailed improper surveillance procedures used on Americans. It was either the world’s weirdest attempt at an early Christmas present, or the NSA was just trying to release the news while no one was paying attention. Either way, the NSA essentially detailed a twelve year history of spying on the American people.

The NSA put out the following statement when they released the reports:

These materials show, over a sustained period of time, the depth and rigor of NSA’s commitment to compliance. By emphasizing accountability across all levels of the enterprise, and transparently reporting errors and violations to outside oversight authorities, NSA protects privacy and civil liberties while safeguarding the nation and our allies

The reports weren’t just released out of the benevolence of the NSA’s heart, of course. The agency released the documents as a result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The reports were originally prepared for the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board. They stretched from the end of 2001 to the middle of 2013. After Edward Snowden released information about the NSA’s transgressions in June of 2013, the American people have been concerned about the extent to which the NSA has kept a close watch on electronic means of communication.

While heavily redacted, the documents detail instances in which NSA employees either conducted unauthorized surveillance, made mistakes, shared data with others, and/or committed other types of transgressions. While none of what was released by the NSA was particularly surprising, it definitely included many incidences that could be seen as embarrassing to the agency.

One such incident was a situation in which an NSA employee snooped into her spouse’s personal communications. According to the report this employee:

reported that, during the past two or three years, she had searched her spouse’s personal telephone directory without his knowledge to obtain names and telephone numbers for targeting.

Apparently that’s a common enough problem that such violations have earned the name “LOVEINT,” presumably some abbreviation of a phrase like “Love Intelligence,” although it is difficult to be completely sure.

It’s understandable that an agency the size of the NSA would occasionally have mistakes occur, but the reports really just seem to confirm the suspicions of American people that there’s been unauthorized spying for the last decade or so. While it’s difficult to see how many times laws were actually broken, there’s definitely evidence of privacy violations here. While it was certainly no surprise, people have every right to be mad about the confirmation of misbehavior by the NSA.


Anneliese Mahoney
Anneliese Mahoney is Managing Editor at Law Street and a Connecticut transplant to Washington D.C. She has a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from the George Washington University, and a passion for law, politics, and social issues. Contact Anneliese at



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