LOVINT Strikes Intelligence Community

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Apparently the expression, “All’s fair in love and war” isn’t true after all. A number of “curious” National Security Agency (NSA) employees inappropriately collected data about their significant others, past and present.

Dr. George Ellard, NSA Inspector General, wrote a letter which noted the circumstances of the violations and instances where NSA employees had been spying on a partner. The specifics of the violations were brought to the attention of Senator Charles Grassley, ranking member on the Judiciary Committee.

Dr. Ellard’s letter was written in response to an August 2013 inquiry made by Grassley, in which concerns were raised about “intention and willful misuse of surveillance authorities” within the agency. Eight out of a dozen examples of security breaches involved the monitoring of phone calls and emails of NSA employees’ significant others.

It seems hard to believe that trained professionals, with Top Secret clearances and access to some of the most personal information available, would be so cavalier where their careers were concerned, not to mention the possibility of prosecution under existing laws.

The letter contains the specifics of NSA employees checking up on suspected unfaithful spouses, or looking up information on former girlfriends. Most of the information had been collected on foreign nationals. One of the NSA employees attempted to defend his actions because he said he did it “out of curiosity.”

The inappropriate data searches began in January of 2003, and once discovered, the majority of employees resigned before being charged. In the remaining cases, the offenders were stripped of their classified access, given a suspension and/or a reduction in rank, and had their pay reduced.

In light of these violations, the NSA may need to consider a more aggressive method of training in order to ensure their employees “think before they search” on spouses, significant others; or anyone else they are curious about. The damage those violators have done to the agency, and the breaches of trust, will continue to affect their credibility with the public; and may increase scrutiny and mistrust for years to come.

Diana M. Rodriguez is a native Washingtonian who works as a professional freelance writer, commentator, and blogger; as well as a public affairs, website content and social media manager for the Department of Defense.

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