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The NSA has released some details of 12 incidents in which analysts used their access to America’s high-tech surveillance infrastructure to spy on girlfriends, boyfriends, and random people they met in social settings. It’s a fascinating look at what happens when the impulse that drives average netizens to look up long-ago ex-lovers on Facebook is mated with the power to fire up a wiretap with a few keystrokes.
We have “SIGINT,” which is how spy agencies refer to collecting signals intelligence, or communications, and “HUMINT” for human intelligence, or spying. And now we have "LOVEINT," which is how NSA officers read the emails of love interests. It doesn't happen a lot, the NSA told the Wall Street Journal, but often enough that there is a word for it.
"The “LOVEINT” examples constitute most episodes of willful misconduct by NSA employees, officials said.
In the wake of revelations last week that NSA had violated privacy rules on nearly 3,000 occasions in a one-year period, NSA Chief Compliance Officer John DeLong emphasized in a conference call with reporters last week that those errors were unintentional. He did say that there have been “a couple” of willful violations in the past decade. He said he didn’t have the exact figures at the moment.
NSA said in a statement Friday that there have been “very rare” instances of willful violations of any kind in the past decade, and none have violated key surveillance laws. “NSA has zero tolerance for willful violations of the agency’s authorities” and responds “as appropriate.”
The LOVEINT violations involved overseas communications, officials said, such as spying on a partner or spouse. In each instance, the employee was punished either with an administrative action or termination."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.), who chairs the Senate intelligence committee, said the NSA told her committee about a set of “isolated cases” that have occurred about once a year for the last 10 years, where NSA personnel have violated NSA procedures.
She said “in most instances” the violations didn’t involve an American’s personal information. She added that she’s seen no evidence that any of the violations involved the use of NSA’s domestic surveillance infrastructure, which is governed by a law known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.