In August, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (that's James Clapper) declassified and released a treasure trove of partly redacted documents related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court discovering that the federal government's Internet surveillance was scooping up thousands of Internet transactions it shouldn't have been able to access. The court was surprised to discover this was going on without its knowledge.
Pushed down in the footnotes of one of these documents was the note that this was actually the third such incident that the surveillance authorized by the FISA Court did not actually operate the way it was described to the court, leaving the court to find out later that rules were being broken.
National Security Agency personnel regularly searched call tracking data using thousands of numbers that had not been vetted in accordance with court-ordered procedures, according to previously secret legal filings and court opinions released by the Obama administration Tuesday.
The agency also falsely certified to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that analysts and technicians were complying with the court's insistence that searches only be done with numbers that had a "reasonable, articulable suspicion" of terrorism, according to a senior intelligence official who briefed reporters prior to release of the documents.
The unauthorized searches went on for about three years until they were discovered in March 2009.
An internal inquiry into the misstatements also found that no one at the NSA understood how the entire call-tracking program worked. "There was nobody at NSA who really had a full idea of how the program was operating at the time," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Ultimately, only a tiny number of phone numbers being queried – about 2,000 out of 17,000 phone numbers – had met any sort of threshold for "reasonable, articulable suspicion." Clapper said today that the NSA itself discovered this violation (after three years) and reported it to the FISA Court.
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