Skeptical that government officials would use their privileges for perverse ends? The NSA’s internal watchdog revealed an employee was able to secretly intercept the phone calls of nine foreign women for six years without being detected by his managers.
The abuse came to light only after one of the women, who was a U.S. government employee, told a colleague she suspected that the man, with whom she was having a sexual relationship, was listening to her calls.
The case is among 12 documented in a letter from the NSA’s inspector general to a leading member of Congress, who asked for a breakdown of cases in which the agency’s powerful surveillance apparatus was deliberately abused by staff. One relates to a member of the US military who, on the first day he gained access to the surveillance system, used it to spy on six email addresses belonging to former girlfriends.
The letter, from Dr George Ellard, only lists cases that were investigated and later “substantiated” by his office. But it raises the possibility that there are many more cases that go undetected. In a quarter of the cases, the NSA only found out about the misconduct after the employee confessed.
It also reveals limited disciplinary action taken against NSA staff found to have abused the system. In seven cases, individuals guilty of abusing their powers resigned or retired before disciplinary action could be taken. Two civilian employees kept their jobs – and, it appears, their security clearance – and escaped with only a written warning after they were found to have conducted unauthorised interceptions.