New reports surrounding the Obama Administration’s treatment of NSA privacy requirements show that 2011 efforts supposedly meant to fight terror, which dramatically broadened the ability of NSA employees to identify Americans “accidentally” swept up in surveillance. This, in turn, made the NSA’s accidental data a political hacker’s dream.
The new rules both dramatically increased the number of people legally allowed to identify the Americans and the details swept up, and also gave way to a policy in which White House aides, including political ones, were routinely given access to the “intelligence reports” containing that information.
We don’t know, and likely will never know, the extent to which this was abused, but those familiar with the situation say that direct intercepts of politically significant Americans were routinely included in those intelligence reports, either directly naming the person in question, or offering such specific descriptions as to make it immediately apparent who was being referenced.
This was the sort of thing that not only is the NSA forbidden by law from doing, but which they repeatedly assured, in the wake of the Snowden leaks, wasn’t even possible as an abuse of power. Increasingly, however, the rule changes made this business as usual.
More details on the scope of this, at least in some specific cases, are likely to be offered to Congressional committees soon in the course of House and Senate investigations into allegations of Trump campaign contacts with Russia, as the NSA’s substantial logs of data on this will be sought both as evidence of the allegations, and as proof that US spy agencies were indeed operating against the campaign during the lead-up to the election.