On Monday, the office of the Inspector General at the National Security Agency (NSA) released a report showing that the agency failed to follow basic internal guidelines and court-ordered procedures in its surveillance of American citizens’ communications.
According to CNN, the report showed that the agency abused a loophole in Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). While Section 702 allows the government to collect such communications of foreign citizens on foreign soil without a warrant, it prohibits the government from doing so with American citizens. The loophole allows the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to use this section to collect American communications without a warrant if they believe “a query is reasonably likely to return foreign intelligence information.”
The inspector general’s report “revealed a number of concerns involving [U.S. person] identifiers used as query terms against FISA Section 702 data.” Furthermore, some of these NSA queries “did not always follow NSA procedural and policy requirements.” Among other discrepancies, information gathered on “selectors,” or particular search terms in an investigation, were not properly documented; in addition, the NSA’s internal query tools designed to automatically prevent the processing of queries involving any Americans associated with the selectors ultimately failed to do so, thus allowing Americans to be investigated and monitored.
In response to the report, an NSA spokesman declared that “The NSA remains fully committed to the rigorous and independent oversight provided by the NSA inspector general’s office.”
“NSA continues to employ measures to assist analysts in conducting their work compliantly with civil liberties and privacies protections,” the spokesman continued. “As the OIG included in its report, the agency has in place multiple processes to aid in ensuring query compliance.”
The inspector general’s report ultimately concluded with 13 recommendations for the agency to follow in order to fix the mistakes and other problems. Seven of the recommendations were followed prior to the public release of the report, while the report noted that “the actions planned by management meet the intent of the other [six] recommendations.”