More NSA Wiretap Abuses

The NY Times reports that the NSA “intercepted private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans in recent months on a scale that went beyond the broad legal limits established by Congress last year.” Is anyone surprised?

Several intelligence officials, as well as lawyers briefed about the matter, said the N.S.A. had been engaged in “overcollection” of domestic communications of Americans. They described the practice as significant and systemic, although one official said it was believed to have been unintentional.

The legal and operational problems surrounding the N.S.A.’s surveillance activities have come under scrutiny from the Obama administration, Congressional intelligence committees and a secret national security court, said the intelligence officials, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because N.S.A. activities are classified. Classified government briefings have been held in recent weeks in response to a brewing controversy that some officials worry could damage the credibility of legitimate intelligence-gathering efforts.

In response to inquiries from the NY Times, the Justice Department acknowledged last night that “there had been problems with the N.S.A. surveillance operation, but said they had been resolved.” And Congressional say that “[I]n recent weeks, the eavesdropping agency notified members of the Congressional intelligence committees that it had encountered operational and legal problems in complying with the new wiretapping law.”

Glenn Greenwald called the revelation from the NY Times “predictable.” Also buried in the NY Times piece was another revelation, that a member of Congress “was under surveillance.”

And in one previously undisclosed episode, the N.S.A. tried to wiretap a member of Congress without a warrant, an intelligence official with direct knowledge of the matter said.

The agency believed that the congressman, whose identity could not be determined, was in contact — as part of a Congressional delegation to the Middle East in 2005 or 2006 — with an extremist who had possible terrorist ties and was already under surveillance, the official said. The agency then sought to eavesdrop on the congressman’s conversations, the official said.

The official said the plan was ultimately blocked because of concerns from some intelligence officials about using the N.S.A., without court oversight, to spy on a member of Congress.

Bloggers are now asking the question, which member of Congress was wiretapped? Spencer Ackermann says his “first guess was Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who visited the West Bank in January 2006.” Kerry was my first guess as well, given the right-wing’s longtime animosity towards him. Ackermann estimates there could be at least “27 members of Congress who could have been illegally surveilled by the NSA.”

Kevin Drum asks, “If a member of Congress isn’t a “United States person” protected from warrantless surveillance by every version of FISA that’s ever been on the books, who is?” Well obviously no one is protected from warrantless surveillance at this point. Drum also notes “maybe this will finally motivate Congress to take NSA surveillance more seriously.” We all hope you are right, Kevin.

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