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Lawmakers React to Story that NSA Broke Privacy Rules ‘Thousands of Times’

After The Washington Post revealed that the National Security Agency had broken U.S. privacy rules “thousands of times each year,” as uncovered in an internal NSA audit, lawmakers in Washington today expressed their frustration that the NSA had not been completely forthcoming in recent Congressional hearings. 

Lawmakers in Washington are concerned that they were left in the dark about an internal audit that found the National Security Agency had broken privacy rules “thousands of times each year” since 2008. The audit was first reported by The Washington Post on Thursday.

“I … will continue to demand honest and forthright answers from the intelligence community,” said Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who said Friday that his committee will hold another hearing on the Post’s revelations. “I remain concerned that we are still not getting straightforward answers from the NSA.”

The Post revelations came from material provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden, who has been given asylum in Russia.

According to the Post story, the NSA’s May 2012 audit found 2,776 incidents of “unauthorized collection, storage, access to or distribution of legally protected communications” in the preceding 12 months.

“Most were unintended. Many involved failures of due diligence or violations of standard operating procedure,” said the article by reporter Barton Gellman. “The most serious incidents included a violation of a court order and unauthorized use of data about more than 3,000 Americans and green-card holders.”

“Press reports that the National Security Agency broke privacy rules thousands of times per year and reportedly sought to shield required disclosure of privacy violations are extremely disturbing,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California. “Congress must conduct rigorous oversight to ensure that all incidents of non-compliance are reported to the oversight committees.”

Pelosi asked for “rigorous oversight” on the “incidents of non-compliance,” while Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told the Post in a statement late Thursday night that her committee “can and should do more to independently verify that NSA’s operations are appropriate, and its reports of compliance incidents are accurate.”

In 2008, a “large number” of calls placed from Washington were intercepted due to a programming error that confused the capitol’s 202 area code for 20, the international dialing code for Egypt, according to the Post. The Post indicated that the information came from a “quality assurance” review that wasn’t distributed to the NSA overnight staff.

In response to the Post story, the NSA said, “A variety of factors can cause the numbers of incidents to trend up or down from one quarter to the next.”

“The one constant across all of the quarters is a persistent, dedicated effort to identify incidents or risks of incidents at the earliest possible moment, implement mitigation measures wherever possible, and drive the numbers down,” the agency said.

“NSA’s foreign intelligence collection activities are continually audited and overseen internally and externally,” it said. “When NSA makes a mistake in carrying out its foreign intelligence mission, the agency reports the issue internally and to federal overseers — and aggressively gets to the bottom of it.”

A survey by CNN/ORC International released last month found that 52 percent of the public disapproved of Snowden’s actions, while 44 percent said they approved of the leaks. In addition, 54 percent of those questioned in the poll said the government should attempt to bring Snowden back to the United States and prosecute him for his leaks.


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