The NSA destroyed surveillance data it pledged to preserve in connection with pending lawsuits and appeared not to have taken some of the steps it told a federal court it had taken to make sure the information was not destroyed, Politico reported last week.
NSA EXPECTED TO ESCAPE ANY PENALTY FOR DEFYING US COURT ORDER
The NSA was under court order to hold on to information that was linked to warrantless wiretapping during the George W. Bush administration, but instead the agency got rid of data it had been specifically asked to retain, according to US media reports.
However, "There likely won't be any consequences. Judges from multiple districts have tolerated this behavior and assumed good faith on the part of the government despite repeated violations of court rulings," Penn State University X-Lab researcher Jeff Landale said.
The NSA had a history of deleting data they were mandated to retain and retaining data they were mandated to delete by courts, Landale pointed out.
"More egregiously, this isn't even the first time NSA has deleted data they were mandated to retain as part of this lawsuit," he said.
In 2014, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) found that the NSA had unilaterally reinterpreted the "Jewel vs NSA" lawsuit to be about the now-defunct President's Surveillance Program, and not programs based on the Patriot Act or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), Landale said.
However, opposition to continuing the warrantless surveillance programs was growing significantly in Congress, Lonsdale observed.
"The good news is that we are seeing progress in Congress to restrain the NSA and FBI in this regard. Despite having a Republican president, dozens more Republicans in the House of Representatives and Senate voted against reauthorizing the FISA Amendments Act this month compared to the 2012 vote on the law," he said.
The US public's confidence in the country’s intelligence community deteriorated each time such a story came out into the open, Landale maintained.
"It is just a matter of time and political will to translate that into legislative reforms," he said.
NSA REMAINS ‘ABOVE THE LAW’ IN UNITED STATES
However, the NSA continued to remain unaccountable and beyond the law, political commentator and author Dan Lazare pointed out.
"It's a disgrace. But the reason the NSA gets away with this nonsense is that no one holds it to account," Lazare said.
The US Congress was ultimately responsible for the failure to rein in the NSA by democratically elected bodies to which it was supposed to be accountable, Lazare remarked.
"Congress could stop such abuses on a dime if it wanted to. But it doesn't as it has made abundantly clear last week by renewing the agency's power to conduct domestic surveillance for another six years," he said.
"Trump, as much as anyone, still has time to stop the extension in its tracks. But all indications are that he won't either because he's afraid to or because, deep down, he too believes in the American surveillance state as much as anybody on Capitol Hill," the analyst said.
The failure of Congress to hold the NSA accountable revealed where true power in the United States resided, Lazare observed.
"The intelligence community is the real power in Washington, and Congress and the White House are nothing more than appendages," he said.
The NSA told US District Court Judge Jeffrey White in a filing on January 18 that it did not preserve internet communications intercepted between 2001 and 2007, while backup tapes that might have mitigated the failure were erased in 2009, 2011 and 2016, the Politico report said.
The original story misspelled the name of Penn State University X-Lab researcher Jeff Landale. Sputnik regrets the error.