In September 2013, in response to a question from Senator Chuck Grassley, the NSA revealed the 12 known cases it had on record over the past decade or so of intentional abuses of the NSA surveillance data, by individuals spying on people they clearly shouldn’t have been spying on.

Many of these examples were classified as “LOVEINT” (a play on the traditional SIGINT — for signals intelligence) for people who looked up the private information of those in whom they had a romantic interest. Of course, as we’ve noted, many of these cases were only discovered after the people self-reported the violation — and some of that happened years later, suggesting many such abuses go undiscovered.

The released report included examples like the following:

In 2011, before an upcoming reinvestigation polygraph, the subject reported that in 2004, “out of curiosity,” he performed a SIGINT query of his home telephone number and the telephone number of his girlfriend, a foreign national. The SIGINT system prevented the query on the home number because it was made on a US person. The subject viewed the metadata returned by the query on his girlfriend’s telephone.


In 2005, during a pre-retirement reinvestigation polygraph and interview, the subject reported that, in 2003, he tasked SIGINT collection of the telephone number of his foreign-national girlfriend without an authorized purpose for approximately one month to determine whether she was “involved with any [local] government officials or other activities that might get [him] in trouble.”


In 2004, upon her return from a foreign site, the subject reported to NSA Security that, in 2004, she tasked a foreign telephone number she had discovered in her husband’s cellular telephone because she suspected that her husband had been unfaithful. The tasking resulted in voice collection of her husband.


In 2003, the appropriate OIG was notified that an employee had possibly violated USSID 18. A female foreign national employed by the U.S. government, with whom the subject was having sexual relations, told another government employee that she suspected that the subject was listening to her telephone calls. The other employee reported the incident.

The investigation determined that, from approximately 1998 to 2003, the employee tasked nine telephone numbers of female foreign nationals, without a valid foreign intelligence purpose, and listened to collected phone conversations while assigned to foreign locations. The subject conducted call chaining on one of the numbers and tasked the resultant numbers. He also incidentally collected the communications of a U.S. person on two occasions.

There are more like that as well. Grassley then asked the DOJ, and specifically Attorney General Eric Holder, if the DOJ took any action against these individuals who clearly broke the law in their surveillance activities. The DOJ ignored the request entirely. In January of 2014 (more than a year ago), Grassley asked Holder again during a hearing when he would receive the answer to his question, and Holder again promised he would “do that soon” and that he would provide a “fulsome response to indicate how those cases were dealt with by the Justice Department.”

Well, more than a year has gone by and guess whether or not Holder fulfilled that promise? If you guessed no, you’d be right. Grassley has now sent a new letter asking just when he can actually expect an answer, and suggesting it ought to happen soon.

Recently, however, the NSA released heavily redacted quarterly and annual reports by the NSA to the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board (“IOB”) that also provide information about these instances of intentional and willful misconduct, as well as other violations by NSA employees, from 2001 to 2013. In its December 23, 2014 press release, NSA asserted that “in the very few cases that involved 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.” The NSA even referenced its public letter to me that discussed the twelve instances of intentional abuse by NSA employees that led me to write to you back in October 2013.

Respectfully. given the date of my original request, your prior commitment to respond “soon,” and the recent release of information by the NSA that expressly relies upon the Department of Justice’s further review of these matters, I believe it is appropriate that you respond to my original request without delay.

Anyone want to guess how the DOJ is likely to respond?

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