It isn’t getting much attention because of the ongoing turmoil in Washington– but a report out this week reveals the government is majorly abusing its spying authority with little regard for rules agencies claim exist to protect American privacy.
The revelations come from The Hill’s John Solomon, who reviewed a series of declassified memos detailing the government’s own accounting of how intelligence employees break privacy rules throughout the year. The memos obtained by the newspaper via an American Civil Liberties Union FOIA request detail privacy violations at the National Security Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation during the previous administration.
From Solomon’s report:
[T]he government admitted improperly searching the NSA’s foreign intercept data on multiple occasions, including one instance in which an analyst ran the same search query about an American “every work day” for a period between 2013 and 2014.
There also were several instances in which Americans’ unmasked names were improperly shared inside the intelligence community without being redacted, a violation of the so-called minimization procedures that Obama loosened in 2011 that are supposed to protect Americans’ identity from disclosure when they are intercepted without a warrant. Numerous times improperly unmasked information about Americans had to be recalled and purged after the fact, the memos stated.
“CIA and FBI received unminimized data from many Section 702-tasked facilities and at times are thus required to conduct similar purges,” one report noted.
“NSA issued a report which included the name of a United States person whose identity was not foreign intelligence,” said one typical incident report from 2015, which said the NSA eventually discovered the error and “recalled” the information.
Likewise, the FBI disclosed three instances between December 2013 and February 2014 of “improper disseminations of U.S. persons identities.”
The NSA also admitted it was slow in some cases to notify fellow intelligence agencies when it wrongly disseminated information about Americans. The law requires a notification within five days, but some took as long as 131 business days and the average was 19 days, the memos show.
The intelligence machine’s line on the privacy violations is that government investigators noting those few mentioned above is proof that citizens have no reason to worry about the surveillance state.
But what the intelligence insiders fail to mention is the “waivers” spies can obtain to keep intercepts obtained on U.S. soil without warrants under changes the agencies made to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
More from Soloman:
The new documents show that the NSA has, on occasion, exempted itself from its legal obligation to destroy all domestic communications that were improperly intercepted.
Under the law, the NSA is supposed to destroy any intercept if it determines the data was domestically gathered, meaning someone was intercepted on U.S. soil without a warrant when the agency thought they were still overseas. The NSA, however, has said previously it created “destruction waivers” to keep such intercepts in certain cases.
The new documents confirm the NSA has in fact issued such waivers and that it uncovered in 2012 a significant violation in which the waivers were improperly used and the infraction was slow to be reported to the court.
“In light of related filings being presented to the Court at the same time this incident was discovered and the significance of the incident, DOJ should have reported this incident under the our immediate notification process,” then-Assistant Attorney General Lisa Monaco wrote the FISA court in Aug. 28, 2012, about the episode, according to one memo released through FOIA.
The NSA declined to say how often destruction waivers are given…
The NSA’s spokesman told The Hill that the waivers are compliant with 702 and the 4th Amendment. The full report is worth a read.
Think for a second what Solomon’s report is really revealing. The government set up a secret court to help it conduct extrajudicial surveillance without having to deal with the pesky justice system. It uses the secret court to assure Americans that their rights are being protected, even if not by the traditional legal system, and then changes the secret court’s rules around at will. This is why we have the regular justice system, which is only one branch of a government power balance.
Much of the conservative push-back against government spying has died down since President Obama left office– but the government is still out of control. In fact, there’s indication that unconstitutional spying could increase under the Trump administration.
At the end of this year, Section 702 is up for renewal. Now would be an ideal time to begin reminding your lawmakers that warrantless government spying on Americans isn’t why you vote for conservative candidates.