Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

ONE DAY left in this Mid-Year Campaign. This is our hour of need.
If you value independent journalism, please support Common Dreams.

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

Late in the day on Christmas Eve, the NSA released a cache of documents revealing more of its long-term, unlawful surveillance operations. (Photo: Electronic Frontier Foundation/flickr/cc)

NSA Spied on Americans for Over a Decade: Report

Christmas Eve document dump: Files released in response to an ACLU lawsuit shows long-term, unauthorized NSA operations against U.S. citizens

Nadia Prupis

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."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Just ONE DAY left in our crucial Mid-Year Campaign and we might not make it without your help.
Who funds our independent journalism? Readers like you who believe in our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. No corporate advertisers. No billionaire founder. Our non-partisan, nonprofit media model has only one source of revenue: The people who read and value this work and our mission. That's it.
And the model is simple: If everyone just gives whatever amount they can afford and think is reasonable—$3, $9, $29, or more—we can continue. If not enough do, we go dark.

All the small gifts add up to something otherwise impossible. Please join us today. Donate to Common Dreams. This is crunch time. We need you now.

As US Rolls Back Reproductive Rights, Sierra Leone Moves to Decriminalize Abortion

"I'm hopeful today's announcement gives activists in the U.S., and especially Black women given the shared history, a restored faith that change is possible and progress can be made."

Brett Wilkins ·

'Indefensible': Outrage as New Reporting Shines Light on Biden Deal With McConnell

The president has reportedly agreed to nominate an anti-abortion Republican to a lifetime judgeship. In exchange, McConnell has vowed to stop blocking two Biden picks for term-limited U.S. attorney posts.

Jake Johnson ·

Assange Makes Final Appeal Against US Extradition

"If Julian Assange is not free, neither are we," said a protester at a Friday demonstration against the WikiLeaks founder's impending transfer. "None of us is free."

Brett Wilkins ·

'Payoff for 40 Years of Dark Money': Supreme Court Delivers for Corporate America

"It was the conservative court's larger agenda to gut the regulatory state and decimate executive powers to protect Americans' health and safety," warned one expert.

Jake Johnson ·

NARAL Pro-Choice Endorses Fetterman—Who Vows to End Senate Filibuster to Protect Abortion Rights

"We know we can count on him to boldly fight for abortion rights and access," said the head of one of the nation's largest reproductive rights advocacy groups.

Jon Queally ·

Common Dreams Logo