Documents Show NSA Overreach in Data Collection; Emails Swept Up in Excess of What's Allowed

Article excerpt

Byline: Shaun Waterman, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Obama administration, under pressure from continued NSA leaks, declassified documents Wednesday showing the agency scooped up tens of thousands of emails and other online communications from Americans beginning in 2008 that it wasn't allowed to target, and was told to stop by the secret court that oversees the program.

Officials briefed reporters on the documents before releasing them as the Obama administration struggles to defend NSA domestic snooping in the face of growing national opposition and especially on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers argue the administration has misled them about the extent of the programs and the scope of abuses.

The documents, described on condition of anonymity by senior officials in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, relate to a compliance violation, which officials characterized as a technicality that ought not to provoke any privacy concerns.

It was a technological issue that could not be avoided, rather than overreach by the NSA, said one official on a conference call organized by the office's public affairs director.

Nonetheless, some lawmakers and privacy advocates responded angrily, saying the declassification was too little, too late.

The documents declassified Wednesday include:

? Three opinions from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court which oversees the programs.

? Procedures used by the NSA to protect the privacy of Americans when reporting foreign intelligence communications involving them.

? A white paper about the program, prepared for Congress in 2011.

? A semi-annual compliance report to Congress from the Department of Justice and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence identifying the violation.

The compliance violation involved the mass collection of upstream Internet communications - the vacuuming and copying of vast swaths of data directly from the fiber optic cables through which it traverses the Internet.

The data, once copied, can then be queried by NSA analysts looking for email from, to or about, the foreign target of a counterterrorism or foreign intelligence surveillance operation overseas, the officials said. …