The Inspector General of the National Security Agency has sent a letter to Sen. Charles Grassley about cases where NSA personnel have used their ability to listen in on phone calls and other communications to spy on girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands and wives. It’s happened 12 times since 2003. Some examples:
In one case revealed by Ellard, an NSA employee for five years snooped on the phone calls of nine female foreign nationals “without a valid foreign intelligence purposes.” In another, 2011 instance, an NSA employee admitted it was “her practice” to eavesdrop on foreign phone numbers “she obtained in social settings” in order to ensure she was not talking to “shady characters.” Both employees resigned before any disciplinary action could be taken…
Among other examples cited in Ellard’s letter:
In 2011, an NSA employee acknowledged that “out of curiosity” he had tried to listen in on the phone calls of his girlfriend, a foreign national. The agency’s system blocked him from doing so, but the employee did retrieve “metadata”– records of time, date and duration of the girlfriend’s phone calls. The subject’s actions were referred to the Justice Department, which declined prosecution.
In 2005, the NSA discovered that another NSA employee eavesdropped for a month “without an authorized purpose” on the phone calls of his foreign national girlfriend. The employee was trying to determine if she was “involved” with any foreign officials or engaged in other activities that “might get him in trouble.” The employee retired before the investigation into his activities was finished.
In 2004, a NSA employee retrieved data on a foreign telephone number she had discovered on her husband’s cell phone. The case was referred to the Justice Department for prosecution, but the employee resigned before any NSA discipline could be imposed. The letter does not address whether there was a prosecution effort.
So no disciplinary action in any of these cases, apparently. Every single one of them should have been prosecuted. Both the Patriot Act and FISA have specific criminal penalties for illegal surveillance. 12 cases in 10 years may not sound like much, but the danger here is that these relatively low-level analysts have access to this kind of data on everyone. How tempting it must be to use it not only against love interests but against political enemies. And no, that isn’t paranoid or unlikely; our government has already done it multiple times in the past.