The N.S.A.'s "Overcollection"
by Charles Lemos, Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 05:46:06 AM EDT
The New York Times reports today that the National Security Agency intercepted the private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans on a scale that exceeded the broad limits set by Congress last year. Several intelligence officials speaking as lawyers only can noted that the N.S.A. had engaged in an "overcollection" of domestic communications of Americans. Officials further characterized the practices by the N.S.A. as "significant and systemic" but "unintentional."
The legal and operational problems surrounding the N.S.A.'s surveillance activities have come under scrutiny from the Obama administration, Congressional intelligence committees and a secret national security court, said the intelligence officials, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because N.S.A. activities are classified. Classified government briefings have been held in recent weeks in response to a brewing controversy that some officials worry could damage the credibility of legitimate intelligence-gathering efforts.
The Justice Department, in response to inquiries from The New York Times, acknowledged Wednesday night that there had been problems with the N.S.A. surveillance operation, but said they had been resolved.
As part of a periodic review of the agency's activities, the department "detected issues that raised concerns," it said. Justice Department officials then "took comprehensive steps to correct the situation and bring the program into compliance" with the law and court orders, the statement said. It added that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. went to the national security court to seek a renewal of the surveillance program only after new safeguards were put in place.
In a statement on Wednesday night, the N.S.A. said that its "intelligence operations, including programs for collection and analysis, are in strict accordance with U.S. laws and regulations." The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the intelligence community, did not address specific aspects of the surveillance problems but said in a statement that "when inadvertent mistakes are made, we take it very seriously and work immediately to correct them."
I'm shocked, shocked, I tell you. Massive domestic spying without meaningful oversight in the United States. No limits on surveillance power, what a grand idea.
If there's good news in all this it is that the N.S.A. tried to wiretap a member of Congress without a warrant. No word on who that was but perhaps members of Congress will be as outraged as we are at the thought of having our private communications "overcollected" without cause or warrant.