NSA Drops Christmas Eve Surprise

The National Security Agency on Christmas Eve day released twelve years of internal oversight reports documenting abusive and improper practices by agency employees. The heavily redacted reports to the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board found that NSA employees repeatedly engaged in unauthorized surveillance of communications by American citizens, failed to follow legal guidelines regarding the retention of private information, and shared data with unauthorized recipients.

While the NSA has come under public pressure for openness since high-profile revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden, the release of the heavily redacted internal reports at 1:30PM on Christmas Eve demonstrates limits to the agency’s attempts to demonstrate transparency. Releasing bad news right before a holiday weekend, often called a “Christmas Eve surprise,” is a common tactic for trying to minimize press coverage.

The reports, released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the American Civil Liberties Union, offer few revelations, but contain accounts of internal behavior embarrassing to the agency. In one instance an NSA employee “searched her spouse’s personal telephone directory without his knowledge to obtain names and telephone numbers for targeting”, a practice which previous reports have indicated was common enough to warrant the name “LOVEINT”.

Many of the reports appear to deal with instances of human error rather than malicious misuse of agency resources. Nonetheless, many of these errors are potentially serious, including entries suggesting that unminimized U.S. telephone numbers were mistakenly disseminated to unauthorized parties and that military personnel were given unauthorized access to raw traffic databases collected under the Foreign Intelligence Services Act.

By Murtaza Hussain – The Intercept –