The National Security Agency quietly released a heavily redacted report late Wednesday night showing that its mass surveillance program targeting U.S. citizens went on for more than 10 years.
The documents, which are made up of annual and quarterly reports filed since 2001, were published to the President's Intelligence Oversight Board in response to a Freedom of Information lawsuit filed by the ACLU.
They note numerous instances in which U.S. citizens were erroneously targeted for spying and information waspassed among servers that were "not authorized" to hold it. Many of these cases were shown to be "marked for purging," but it is unclear whether they were actually deleted.
The NSA's executive summary of the reports states, "The vast majority of compliance incidents involve unintentional technical or human error... Data incorrectly acquired is almost always deleted."
As exposed in NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden's document leak in 2013, much of the surveillance program consisted of unauthorized spying on American targets. According to a 2012 report, an analyst conducted a query "on a U.S. organization in a raw traffic database without formal authorization because the analyst incorrectly believed that he was authorized to query due to a potential threat."
On multiple occasions, NSA analysts "performed overly broad or poorly constructed database queries" that potentially targeted American citizens—referred to in the documents as USP, for "U.S. persons."
Mistakes made by analysts often did not come to light until they were discovered by database auditors, the reports show. In 2012, an erroneous query was apparently made because an analyst "did not realize that the e-mail addresses were US addresses."
In an interview with the Guardian earlier this year, Snowden also revealed that agents often used their surveillance powers for use in their personal lives. The reports released Wednesday confirmed that trend, noting one instance in which an analyst "searched her spouse's telephone directory without his knowledge to obtain names and telephone numbers for targeting." The analyst was apparently "advised to cease her activities."
Similarly, as The Verge notes, NSA agents also apparently stalked their potential love interests so often that the practice acquired its own inter-agency nickname: LOVEINT.
"The government conducts sweeping surveillance under this authority—surveillance that increasingly puts Americans’ data in the hands of the NSA,” Patrick C. Toomey, staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project, said in an e-mail to Bloomberg. "Despite that fact, this spying is conducted almost entirely in secret and without legislative or judicial oversight."