The giant jigsaw puzzle that is the NSA-led surveillance state had a few more pieces added on Friday, including the revelation that NSA analysts have intentionally violated privacy protections on multiple occasions.
Despite repeated and adamant claims from the security agencies and members of Congress that any such violations have been accidental or technical, Bloomberg reports that's not always the case.
“Over the past decade, very rare instances of willful violations of NSA’s authorities have been found,” the NSA said in a statement to Bloomberg News. “NSA takes very seriously allegations of misconduct, and cooperates fully with any investigations -- responding as appropriate. NSA has zero tolerance for willful violations of the agency’s authorities.” …
The actions, said a second U.S. official briefed on them, were the work of overzealous NSA employees or contractors eager to prevent any encore to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The total number of such incidents isn't clear. Nor were they in violation of the statutes that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court uses to authorize the surveillance tools; instead, they're violations of an executive order issued during the Reagan administration. Among other things, that order defines how and when spy agencies are allowed to surveil Americans.
That distinction, between the Patriot Act / Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the executive order, was cited by the heads of the congressional intelligence committees to explain past comments, like when Rep. Mike Rogers claimed there were "zero violations." The offices of both Rogers and Sen. Dianne Feinstein insisted that those comments only referred to violations of the law.
Bloomberg's report is evidence of the continued fracturing of reporting on the NSA's surveillance tools. Journalism professor Jay Rosen calls this the "Snowden effect," the rush by other media organizations to pick up threads laid down by The Guardian and the Washington Post, the two outlets originally given the Snowden documents.
There were also indications on Friday that the universe of those doing original reporting on those documents was expanding. BuzzFeed reported that The Guardian had entered into a reporting partnership with The New York Times to assess and report on the apparently-still-large set of material. The agreement allows the former to step away from the increased pressure its under from the British government — a situation similar to the two outlets' partnership on the Wikileaks documents several years ago.
The British paper The Independent released its own report on a British facility in the Middle East used to review internet communications. It's a report similar to past stories about the NSA's tapping into international fiber optic cables. But what's interesting is how The Independent suggests it got the documents behind the story, titled "Exclusive: UK’s secret Mid-East internet surveillance base is revealed in Edward Snowden leaks."
The Independent is not revealing the precise location of the station but information on its activities was contained in the leaked documents obtained from the NSA by Edward Snowden. …
Information about the project was contained in 50,000 GCHQ documents that Mr Snowden downloaded during 2012.
The implication is that it, too, has access to Snowden documents. But Snowden himself denied the suggestion to The Guardian. Snowden wrote:
It appears that the UK government is now seeking to create an appearance that the Guardian and Washington Post's disclosures are harmful, and they are doing so by intentionally leaking harmful information to The Independent and attributing it to others.
The actual origination of The Independent's report is still unclear.
The Guardian itself plugged in two more pieces of the puzzle. It revealed that the United States government compensated tech companies including Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo for their implementation of the NSA's surveillance systems. The rules that guide that surveillance, meanwhile, haven't been updated in 30 years.
Reporters and members of Congress have continually suggested that what's known about these tools is still just "the tip of the iceberg." Indicating far more Snowden fall-out to come.