National Security Agency deleted data it promised to keep for court proceedings

National Security Agency deleted data it promised to keep for court proceedings
The NSA deleted data it was supposed to save in connection with lawsuits. (Saul Loeb/Getty Images)

Recent court documents show the National Security Agency destroyed surveillance data it promised to preserve for pending lawsuits, Politico reported.

The content in question relates to internet communications intercepted between 2001 and 2007 under the orders of then-President George W. Bush, according to the report:

“Since 2007, the NSA has been under court orders to preserve data about certain of its surveillance efforts that came under legal attack following disclosures that President George W. Bush ordered warrantless wiretapping of international communications after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S.,” the report states. “In addition, the agency has made a series of representations in court over the years about how it is complying with its duties.”

The NSA told U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White Thursday that data and “backup tapes that might have mitigated the failure were erased in 2009, 2011 and 2016,” Politico reported.

On Friday, President Donald Trump extended a law that includes provisions for the NSA to work with U.S. internet providers and tech companies for its surveillance efforts, according to reports.

“The NSA sincerely regrets its failure to prevent the deletion of this data,” an NSA official identified publicly as Elizabeth B. wrote in a declaration. “NSA senior management is fully aware of this failure, and the Agency is committed to taking swift action to respond to the loss of this data.”

The filing goes on to say the NSA will likely be able to search its backup databases to attempt to recover the information.

What are people saying?

David Greene, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation told Politico that the deletion of the data is disappointing.

“Even if you take them at their word that this was just an honest mistake, what it shows is despite your best intention to comply with important restrictions, it can be really difficult to implement,” Greene said. “It shows that with the really tremendous volume of information they’re vacuuming up, it is impossible to be meticulous.”

NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, a former senior staffer at the agency, takes it a step further. On Twitter, Drake called the deletion “no accident.”

Drake and other NSA whistleblowers – among them Bill Binney, J. Kirk Wiebe, and Edward Snowden – have long said the agency conducts surveillance and gathers data on Americans without court orders. And they have faced heavy fallout for speaking out.

Binney and Drake were both raided by the FBI after criticizing the NSA, according to many published reports. Drake faced espionage charges, one of the few cases of its kind, after the NSA accused him of mishandling government documents. The charge was later dropped.

Binney is a former senior technical director, crypto-mathematician, and intelligence analyst who helped design surveillance systems for the NSA. He quit the NSA weeks after the 911 terrorist attacks when he learned the agency was using his software to gather intelligence on Americans without court orders.

95 Comments