Declassified Docs Show Abuse in Domestic Spy Program

Newly declassified documents disclose yet more misuse of the NSA's domestic surveillance capabilities.

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National Security Agency headquarters in Fort Meade, Md.

Documents released Tuesday under court order by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence reveal new evidence of the National Security Agency violating regulations on how it uses the data it collects from American citizens.

According to the release, the NSA was reprimanded in 2009 by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the government body tasked with overseeing the agency, after misrepresenting to the court how it uses telephone data collected from Americans. This represents the second known instance of the court scolding the agency since Edward Snowden leaked thousands of documents from the agency, launching a national debate on state surveillance.

The NSA keeps a list of more than 17,000 phone numbers it considers possibly linked to terrorism. The agency cross-references that list with data vacuumed up about phone calls made and received by other Americans in search of more links to terrorist activity. “The agency told the court that all the numbers on the alert list had met the legal standard of suspicion, but that was false,” reports The New York Times. In truth, only 10% of the 17,800 numbers on the list in 2009 met that standard.

In a sternly worded secret opinion, a FISA court judge wrote that, “The government has compounded its noncompliance with the court’s orders by repeatedly submitting inaccurate descriptions of the alert list process.”

The incidents described in the document release were reported to Congress at the time they were discovered, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper wrote in an official statement. In his statement the director says NSA staff tasked with ensuring the agency maintains compliance with its regulatory and legal limitations has increased four-fold in as many years.

Clapper says that, although the documents released do reveal sensitive and properly classified information, “the harm to national security in these circumstances is outweighed by the public interest.” The documents were released as a result of a lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

[The New York Times]