NSA Accidentally Listened to Domestic Calls
James Risen and Eric Lichtblau report that the NSA inadvertantly captured some domestic-only calls in its surveillance of international terrorists, despite strict protocols against doing so.
A surveillance program approved by President Bush to conduct eavesdropping without warrants has captured what are purely domestic communications in some cases, despite a requirement by the White House that one end of the intercepted conversations take place on foreign soil, officials say.
The officials say the National Security Agency’s interception of a small number of communications between people within the United States was apparently accidental, and was caused by technical glitches at the National Security Agency in determining whether a communication was in fact “international.”
Telecommunications experts say the issue points up troubling logistical questions about the program. At a time when communications networks are increasingly globalized, it is sometimes difficult even for the N.S.A. to determine whether someone is inside or outside the United States when making a cellphone call or sending an e-mail message. As a result, people that the security agency may think are outside the United States are actually on American soil.
While I had not thought about this possibility, it is obvious upon even quick reflection. After all, police officers occasionally search the wrong home even though they collected the evidence themselves and have written instructions on where to go. Mistakes happen in human endeavors and they are likely to be magnified in a large program relying on electronic data.