NSA Analysts Cyber-Stalk Love Interests...Sometimes

National Security Agency officers on several occasions have channeled their agency’s enormous eavesdropping power to spy on love interests, U.S. officials said.

The NSA admitted earlier this week that there had been intentional abuses of its surveillance infrastructure, despite earlier claims by the NSA and various members of Congress that there had been absolutely no "intentional" abuses. In a late Friday news release, the NSA finally put out an official statement admitting to an average of one intentional abuser per year over the past ten years. The Associated Press is reporting that at least one of the abuses involved an NSA employee spying on a former spouse.

We have “SIGINT,” which is how spy agencies refer to collecting signals intelligence, or communications, and “HUMINT” for human intelligence, or spying. And now we have "LOVEINT," which is how NSA officers read the emails of love interests. It doesn't happen a lot, the NSA told the Wall Street Journal, but often enough that there is a word for it.

"The “LOVEINT” examples constitute most episodes of willful misconduct by NSA employees, officials said.

In the wake of revelations last week that NSA had violated privacy rules on nearly 3,000 occasions in a one-year period, NSA Chief Compliance Officer John DeLong emphasized in a conference call with reporters last week that those errors were unintentional. He did say that there have been “a couple” of willful violations in the past decade. He said he didn’t have the exact figures at the moment.

NSA said in a statement Friday that there have been “very rare” instances of willful violations of any kind in the past decade, and none have violated key surveillance laws. “NSA has zero tolerance for willful violations of the agency’s authorities” and responds “as appropriate.”

The LOVEINT violations involved overseas communications, officials said, such as spying on a partner or spouse. In each instance, the employee was punished either with an administrative action or termination."

Also troubling is that it appears that the NSA only told its oversight committee in the Senate about all of this a matter of days ago:

"The Senate Intelligence Committee was briefed this week on the willful violations by the NSA's inspector general's office, as first reported by Bloomberg.

"The committee has learned that in isolated cases over the past decade, a very small number of NSA personnel have violated NSA procedures — in roughly one case per year," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who chairs the committee, said in a statement Friday."

Senator Feinstein still defending the NSA even though they've made her -- and other members of congress -- look rather foolish, as just last week she said "As I have said previously, the committee has never identified an instance in which the NSA has intentionally abused its authority to conduct surveillance for inappropriate purposes."

In an interview with reporters last week, the NSA's director of compliance, John DeLong, said the abuses "are taken very seriously."

"When we make mistakes, we detect, we correct and we report," DeLong said.

Of course, we now see that it may take years for the NSA to do so. Also, as for detecting "mistakes," the WSJ notes that "Most of the incidents, officials said, were self-reported. Such admissions can arise, for example, when an employee takes a polygraph test as part of a renewal of a security clearance."

How often are security clearances renewed? Is a polygraph administered with each renewal?

Are the current and former lovers who were stalked alright, did they come to any harm?

Does anyone else think it seems rather far-fetched to believe that there are no other sort of "mistakes" made intentionally?

About Diane Sweet

Diane Sweet's picture
Senior Editor, Lives in a gerrymandered district in Michigan.

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