The NSA’s domestic surveillance program is under scrutiny, and Congressional critics say monitoring of private telephone calls and email messages of Americans is broader than previously disclosed, according to current and former officials quoted by The New York Times.
In particular, the agency’s intercepts of domestic email messages has posed longstanding legal and logistical problems, they added.
Since April, Congressional committees have been investigating intercepts of some private American communications that went beyond legal limits in late 2008 and early 2009. The inquiries have Congressional concerns about the agency’s ability to collect and read domestic email messages of Americans. The account of a former NSA analyst who training in 2005 for a program that routinely monitored large volumes of American email messages without court warrants supports that conclusion, as well as two intelligence officials who confirmed the program was still in operation.
Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ), chairman of the House Select Intelligence Oversight Panel that has been investigating the incidents, said he is increasingly troubled by the agency’s monitoring of domestic communications.
“Some actions are so flagrant that they can’t be accidental,” he said. He added, “The people making the policy don’t understand the technicalities,” owing to the complex nature of the specifics of the agency’s monitoring programs.
The monitoring was carried out under a new law passed last year that gave the NSA a wider legal berth to collect and examine private communications of Americans so long as it was only the incidental byproduct of investigating individuals “reasonably believed” to be overseas.
But after hearings on the subject, some lawmakers question the NSA’s limits for such incidental collection and whether the privacy of Americans is being adequately protected.
A former intelligence official offered, on condition of anonymity:
“For the Hill, the issue is a sense of scale, about how much domestic email collection is acceptable. It’s a question of how many mistakes they can allow.”
Wendy Morigi, speaking on behalf of Dennis C. Blair, said because of the complex nature of surveillance “technical or inadvertent errors can occur. When such errors are identified, they are reported to the appropriate officials, and corrective measures are taken.”