The New York Times’ Eric Lichtblau and James Risen report that the National Security Agency engaged in “overcollection” of e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans last year. The legal authority given to the NSA authorizes the surveillance of targets “reasonably believed” to be outside the United States. The Obama Justice Department said it “detected issues that raised concerns,” but claims that the problems have now been resolved. “[T]he issue appears focused in part on technical problems in the N.S.A.’s ability at times to distinguish between communications inside the United States and those overseas.” Lichtblau and Risen document one particular instance of misconduct involving the wiretapping of a member of Congress:
And in one previously undisclosed episode, the N.S.A. tried to wiretap a member of Congress without a warrant, an intelligence official with direct knowledge of the matter said.
The agency believed that the congressman, whose identity could not be determined, was in contact — as part of a Congressional delegation to the Middle East in 2005 or 2006 — with an extremist who had possible terrorist ties and was already under surveillance, the official said. The agency then sought to eavesdrop on the congressman’s conversations, the official said.
The official said the plan was ultimately blocked because of concerns from some intelligence officials about using the N.S.A., without court oversight, to spy on a member of Congress.
Congressional officials said they have “begun inquiries” into the matter.
Kevin Drum writes, “Looking on the bright side, maybe this will finally motivate Congress to take NSA surveillance more seriously. Having one of their own members come within a hair’s breadth of being an NSA target ought to concentrate their minds wonderfully, if anything will.”