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NSA Says Some Analysts Willfully Violated Spying Authority

The National Security Agency says that on rare occasions some of its analysts deliberately violated the agency's surveillance authorities.

NPR's Tom Gjelten tells our Newscast unit that the violations generally do not involve surveillance of U.S. citizens' telephone or email data. He filed this report:

"The NSA this week briefed members of Congress on employee compliance with surveillance authorities. In a new statement the agency summarized what it reported.

"Over the past decade, the agency said, 'very rare instances of willful violations of NSA's authorities have been found.'

"But the agency said the violations did not involve the Patriot Act or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), laws which set out the conditions under which U.S. citizens can be monitored.

"Sen. Diane Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence committee, says there's been only about one case per year of such violations."

Blomberg news, which first reported the story, reports that the statement appears to contradict public statements from high-ranking U.S. officials.

Bloomberg reports:

"Army General Keith Alexander, director of the NSA, said during a conference in New York on Aug. 8 that 'no one has willfully or knowingly disobeyed the law or tried to invade your civil liberties or privacy.'

"Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Republican Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, have defended the NSA.

"Feinstein said in an Aug. 16 statement that her committee 'has never identified an instance in which the NSA has intentionally abused its authority to conduct surveillance for inappropriate purposes.'"

Bloomberg concedes that the officials may have been speaking narrowly about violations of Patriot Act or FISA laws.

As we noted back in July, Alexander defended the NSA during a hacking conference in Las Vegas. He was adamant about accusations against his analysts, even dropping a choice word in their defense.

"We get all these allegations of what [NSA staff] could be doing," Alexander said. "But when people check what the NSA is doing, they've found zero times that's happened. And that's no bulls—t. Those are the facts."

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.