The National Security Agency this week declassified dozens of confidential reports that describe how its analysts have violated federal law and internal procedure as it collected intelligence.
The NSA released them on Christmas Eve, just as the government was about to close for two days. The NSA put them up under a section on public information called "declassification and transparency."
The reports had been sought by the American Civil Liberties Union, which went to court to force them to be released. The ACLU told Bloomberg Businessweek that the emails show the NSA's surveillance "increasingly puts Americans' data in the hands of the NSA."
The NSA noted than a presidential executive order requires it to report each quarter on incidents that "they have reason to believe may be unlawful or contrary to executive order or presidential directive."
But the NSA reports are heavily redacted. The most recent report, which covers the first quarter of 2013, lists several examples of "unintentional targeting or database queries" against people, but each example includes blank boxes of redacted information:
The NSA reports cover from 2001 to 2013, and in most cases describe situations in which an analyst either targeted people improperly for surveillance, or shared data inappropriately with unauthorized people. In most cases, NSA said, the error was immediately recognized and an attempt was made to correct it, either by destroying any reports with unauthorized information in them, or recalling inappropriate emails.
"The vast majority of compliance incidents involve unintentional technical or human error," it said. "In the very few cases that involve the intentional misuse of a signals intelligence system, a thorough investigation is completed, the results are reported to the IOB and the Department of Justice as required, and appropriate disciplinary or administrative action is taken…"
"NSA goes to great lengths to ensure compliance with the Constitution, laws and regulations," the NSA added.