It seems the NSA -- despite its massive eaves-dropping operation -- can't keep track of its own spies using that eavesdropping technology to spy on wives, husbands, girlfriends, boyfriends or whatever the kids are calling their bedfellows these days. We'd like to offer some help.
The Wall Street Journal's Siobahn Gorman reports some of the willful violations the NSA admitted to on Friday were actually NSA spies checking in on their "loved ones" using the government program's massive eavesdropping operation. This snooping isn't a regular occurrence -- it's only come up in a "handful of cases in the last decade" -- but it happens often enough that it has its own hilarious spy shorthand: LOVEINT. (LOVE, because duh, INT, because intelligence.) Gorman reports each instance "involved overseas communications," so the NSA isn't copping to directly violating your Fourth Amendment rights here. (Though we find that hard to believe. Everyone who broke the rules was dating a foreigner? Sure.) But what's troubling is the NSA usually doesn't discover the violations until the agents admitted to them much later:
Most of the incidents, officials said, were self-reported. Such admissions can arise, for example, when an employee takes a polygraph tests as part of a renewal of a security clearance.
You mean to tell us no part of the expansive spying operation noticed Joe from the third floor was checking in on his wife while she was vacationing in Spain? This would be more shocking if we didn't already know the NSA is bad at snail mail. But now we know what the problem is, so it should be easy enough to fix. The NSA needs to learn to spy on itself.
The NSA may be at a loss unless it creates an oversight division dedicated to constantly spying on its own spies. They would keep track of phone records, emails and data logs to determine patterns consistent with contact between two people who are obviously knocking boots. If the NSA can do that with terrorists in international sleeper cells, it stands to reason they can do that with their own employees. Or, alternatively, they can cross reference their employee list with Facebook and see who's in a relationship and set up a red flag system if any of those names are showing up in recurring searches. That shouldn't be too difficult. Phil in sector seven could probably handle that workload by himself.
Anyway, this is a fun report that really isn't all that surprising. We all do a little snooping online when we meet someone new. It's just a fact. If you were sitting at an NSA desk, on a Tuesday, bored out of your mind with the most sophisticated surveillance system at your fingertips, you'd do the same thing. Some have been fired for the offense, though, so be forewarned.
Otherwise, some tried to turn the news into a bad hashtag about surveillance jokes and movies and occasionally poetry:
He’s Just Not Intercepting You No Strings Attached (Because You’re On A Cell Phone) I’ve Got Your Mail! Say Anything. #NSAromcom— Marc Ambinder (@marcambinder) August 24, 2013
Other were less subtle:
I'm sure there's people at the NSA fapping to hacked nudes right now.— netw3rk (@netw3rk) August 24, 2013
Hopefully no one gives up their day job.