The National Security Agency’s monitoring of American’s phone calls and e-mail has gone further than previously acknowledged, congressional critics of the agency say.
The criticism comes amid congressional investigations that began after disclosures in April that the NSA had gone beyond legal limits late last year and early this year in monitoring the communications.
A former NSA official told The New York Times that he was trained in 2005 for a mission in which agency officials routinely went through large amounts of Americans’ e-mail without court warrants.
Two intelligence officials told the paper that the operation remains in force.
Congress passed a law last year giving the NSA greater authority to intercept phone calls and e-mails of Americans only if that interception constitutes the incidental byproduct of investigating individuals “reasonably believed” to be overseas.
E-mails have proved to be a particularly difficult issue for the NSA because of the difficulty in determining whether they come from an American or a foreigner.
Now after the congressional investigations, some in Congress question whether Americans’ privacy is being sufficiently protected.
“For the Hill, the issue is a sense of scale, about how much domestic e-mail collection is acceptable,” a former intelligence official told The Times. “It’s a question of how many mistakes they can allow.”
Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., who is chairman of the House Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, tells The Times “Some actions are so flagrant that they can’t be accidental.”
Wendy Morigi, a spokeswoman for National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair, says that, because of the complexity of surveillance and the regulations surrounding it, “technical or inadvertent errors can occur.”
She told The Times that “When such errors are identified, they are reported to the appropriate officials, and corrective measures are taken.”
In Congressional testimony Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder said, “I have not had a chance to review with detail the article in The New York Times today,” according to Kos news service.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., responded, “I wish you would. If we're going to re-authorize, we've got to know what the department wants . . . I hope you will look into it and redouble your efforts to work on a media shield bill.”
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