The National Security Agency broke its own rules and regulations in order to spy on American citizens, a new report by the NSA’s own inspector general revealed on Monday.
The Office of the Inspector General for the NSA published its semi-annual report to Congress, which detailed the failures it found in the agency’s procedures under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act (FISA).
Section 702 of FISA details how U.S. intelligence agencies are allowed to conduct warrantless surveillance of the communications of non-U.S. citizens on foreign soil.
The section describes how intelligence officials may access the sensitive information and communications of American citizens (USPs), but only if there is probable cause that they are working for, or are in contact with suspicious non-citizens.
According to the Inspector General’s report, the evaluation efforts “revealed several issues that, if not addressed, have the potential to impact the effectiveness of the Agency’s internal controls used to protect the civil liberties and privacy rights of USPs.”
As detailed by American Military News, investigators found NSA queries into U.S. person “selectors,” which is the agency’s term of FISA search terms that failed to follow Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC)-approved procedures.
“While NSA has implemented both preventative and detective controls, the Agency has not completed the development of a preventative system control that performs pre-query validation to notify analysts of potential noncompliance with NSA query procedures or policy problems prior to query execution,” the report stated.
The report further detailed how the NSA did not always document such information on its search tools.
“The lack of consistency limited the ability to fully and accurately search the module’s contents,” the report said. “Furthermore, data standards were not fully addressed in NSA’s tool, and the tool lacked standard operating procedures that were accessible to analysts with access to the tool.”
American Military News reported:
The report also said the agency’s Rules-Based Targeting (RBT) — the NSA targeting tool’s method of automating site selections when targeting a given selector — and the agency’s surveillance targeting distribution raised the likelihood that the agency might inadvertently choose selectors that are prohibited under the applicable NSA signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection authorities.
The inspector general made 13 recommendations to better protect the private information of USPs from improperly being accessed. The report said the agency completed seven of those recommendations before the publication of the report and the agency has actions planned that satisfy the other recommendations.
The NSA has previously come under fire after intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the extent of abuse committed by the agency upon American citizens, which spied on Americans without their knowledge to glean personal information, photographs, and other sensitive data about citizens with cause.
Snowden’s disclosures also revealed numerous global surveillance programs, many conducted by the NSA and the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, with the cooperation of telecom companies and European governments.
Snowden remains on the lam from western authorities and has been granted permanent residency in Russia.