April 16th, 2009
03:00 PM ET
9 years ago

Intel chief acknowledges wrongful intercepts, adds new safeguards

Sen. Dianne Feinstein said she will hold a hearing on the matter.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein said she will hold a hearing on the matter.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - U.S. intelligence officials said Thursday they have added new safeguards to prevent the government from unlawfully spying on U.S. citizens after a routine check of the system "detected issues that raised concerns."

Intelligence officials declined to specify the nature of the problem. But in a prepared statement, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair said that on occasion, the National Security Agency "has made mistakes and intercepted the wrong communications."

Officials characterized the wrongful intercepts as inadvertent and not nefarious. But some lawmakers said the matter reveals holes in the systems Congress established last year to ensure the country's vast intelligence gathering bureaucracy would not be used unconstitutionally to collect information about U.S. citizens.

"These are serious allegations and we will make sure we get the facts," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Feinstein said she will hold a hearing on the matter.

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, said Congress needs to fix several post-September 11th laws that "have eroded the privacy and civil liberties of law-abiding citizens."

At issue is the activities of the National Security Agency, which collects "signals" intelligence - typically international telecommunications and e-mails.

In his statement, Blair said the NSA goes to great lengths to ensure the privacy and civil liberties of U.S. citizens, but has made occasional mistakes.

"The number of these mistakes are very small in terms of our overall collection efforts, but each one is investigated, the Congress and the courts are notified, corrective measures are taken, and improvements are put in place to prevent reoccurances."

Blair said the lawful intercepts "have played a vital role" in thwarting terrorist attacks since September 11, 2001, when hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington and a field in Pennsylvania. More than 2,700 people were killed.

A Justice Department spokesman said the department and the NSA were conducting routine oversight when they detected issues that raised concerns.

"The Justice Department immediately notified the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and took comprehensive steps to correct the situation and bring the program into compliance," Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said.

The department also briefed members of the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees of the House and Senate and other appropriate members of Congress, he said.

A former senior intelligence official told CNN intelligence collection systems are "technically complex operations" and the NSA "never claimed to be perfection."

"It is a complex global communications grid and you have to have lots of processes and checks to make sure that you are only targeting those communications of non-U.S. persons reasonably believed to be outside the United States. That is the challenge."

The fact that auditors discovered the problem, reported it and the bureaucracy made adjustments to prevent a reoccurrence is an indication that the program is working, he said.

The matter was first reported by the New York Times, which quoted several intelligence officials as saying the NSA has been engaged in "overcollection" of domestic communications of Americans. The Times quoted officials as saying the practice was significant and systemic, although one official called it unintentional.

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soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. Jimmy the Greek

    Hey Obama – RELEASE the complete record of this violation!!

    I notice you're releasing Bush memos yet you tap-dance around YOUR administrations violations?!

    April 16, 2009 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  2. Dutc/Bad Newz, VA

    FISA is needed, but it has to have strict oversight to make sure that our libertes aren't being stripped away from us. Thank you Sen. Feinstein for acknowledging that.

    April 16, 2009 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  3. yeah right

    its bad enough I live afraid here in Texas, now, I have to be more afraid of govt too ? I dont WANT to live in fear anymore !

    April 16, 2009 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  4. Mississippi Mike

    They've been spying on known violent groups like Code Pink, BAMN, ELF and ALF when they should have been monitoring message boards on michellemalkin.com and the conversations at VFW meetings. Truly pathetic.

    April 16, 2009 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  5. Brian G, Sugar Land, TX

    It's about time!

    I have family located in Latin America and know for a fact the I have been "monitored" because I fit the terrorist profile of making frequent calls overseas and sending money.

    Oooo, how dangerous am I to love my family and want to help them out. Idiots!

    April 16, 2009 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  6. R in Maine

    Let's get on with making it a personal individual crime to violate individual rights of privacy.

    April 16, 2009 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  7. Ben

    I'm not sure Feinstein has an ounce of common sense to try and investigate the corrupt administration and their crooked appointments.

    April 16, 2009 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  8. Diane Panama City Fl

    Conducting routine oversight! Wow, how refreshing after eight years of the Bush/Cheney Fascist State of America we've had to suffer under. Reading what they did to us and our Constitution makes my skin crawl. If the Tea-Baggers think President Obama is a fascist, they should read the Bush Administration Torture Memos once these are released to understand the REAL meaning of fascism. Cheney's definition of a stong executive branch of government with little or no checked authority by Congress or the Courts read just like something from Hitler's manifesto, Das Kapital!

    April 16, 2009 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  9. Robin

    The double standard continues.

    April 16, 2009 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  10. Jackie in Dallas

    Jimmy the Greek, you'll lose your bet on this story!

    These violations fall under the auspices of the previous administration's rules and non-regulation. They are part of the erosion of individual right that Cheney went on television and BRAGGED about! Considering that the majority of the people involved are holdovers from Bush's administration, and are still following the rules his administration set up, I don't see HOW you can possibly say these are President Obama's violations. You do realize that he has been just a tad busy keeping this country afloat and dealing with piles and piles of problems left behind by President Bush. I'm personally hoping that he will soon have the time to go through and revise the way our intelligence agencies are run, and suggest the repeal of the Patriot Act (which was anything BUT patriotic!).

    Oh, and by the way, he didn't just release the Bush memos on a whim - they were requested, legally, through proper channels.

    April 16, 2009 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  11. phoenix86

    WHAT???? A government agency made a mistake? NO WAY.

    Wait until they publish your medical records on line and start dictating what treatments you can and can't have.

    Past and currrent government service quality is the best arguement for smaller government.

    To bad we elected a facist president with majority in congress.

    April 16, 2009 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  12. Chi Town

    Ahhh... just throw some money at it.

    April 16, 2009 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  13. stormerF

    Feinstein,,what a joke,she is such a hyprocrite,she owned a handgun when she was younger and now she is for gun control,she lies about the weapons comming from the US to Mexico,its not 90% its maybe 14%,,How in the world does California keep re-electing this Retard?

    April 16, 2009 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  14. Why is the Obama administration

    listening to our phone conversations anyway? Tyrannical socialism cannot stand.

    April 16, 2009 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  15. Scott AZ now proud DHS Activist/Radical

    How about the Dems holding hearings into what caused this economic mess we're in.. Opps, I forgot, they were in charge of the various committees that was suppose to have oversight.

    April 16, 2009 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  16. Steph

    Finding, ackowledging and fixing mistakes...now that's a change.

    April 16, 2009 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  17. Richard L

    The only person in the country that will be "surprised" by this is Bush.

    April 16, 2009 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  18. Some guy

    Diane Panama City Fl, while I agree with you, Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital. Hitler wrote Mein Kampf. Cultural literacy is truly dead in the United States of news bites. Have a nice day!

    April 16, 2009 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  19. lovable liberal

    "Tyrannical socialism cannot stand."

    Someone on this thread really, really misses tyrannical Bushism's surveillance without benefit of legal oversight.

    April 16, 2009 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  20. Mike Syracuse, NY

    @Jackie in Dalls, did you miss the election? Let me clue you in, Obama's watch, Obama's fault. The transfer of power on Jan. 20th is absolute. Obama can whine all he wants about what he 'inherited' (something you never heard his idol Lincoln say), but the bottom line is when he took the oath, he got the job warts and all.

    April 16, 2009 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  21. bill

    Why such anger?

    It OK , Obama did it. DIdnt you see the puppy picture last week. He is young and energetic. So he asks that all religious symbols to be covered up when he speaks, its OK, Socialism requires the State to dictate all morality and enforce it, so we all need to just take a deep breath until Obama sorts out what our new beliefs and priorities shoudl be. I gotta go now, I think CNN is getting ready to release another story about Sarah Palins daughter and MSNBC has coverage of Obamas family picking flowers for the poor...I hope the puppy is there.

    I tear up just thinking how blessed we are.

    April 16, 2009 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  22. JJ12345

    Mississippi Mike April 16th, 2009 3:41 pm ET

    They've been spying on known violent groups like Code Pink, BAMN, ELF and ALF when they should have been monitoring message boards on michellemalkin.com and the conversations at VFW meetings. Truly pathetic
    Speaking of Code Pink, where have they been lately or is it ok to have armed conflict when there are dems i office.

    Maybe they should also monitor the daily kos and other left wing sites and groups. The far left is just as radical.

    April 16, 2009 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |