The shadowy National Security Agency has revealed that a small number of the agency's employees used their vast international surveillance powers - meant to track potential terrorists and protect the American homeland - to check up on their crushes or significant others.
In nearly a dozen incidents over the last decade that take the term "cyber-stalking" to a whole new level, NSA employees broke NSA rules to enter phone numbers or email addresses associated with their romantic interests, in one case an ex, into vast databases to see to whom they were talking, according to the agency's Inspector General.
The incidents, 12 in total and most romantic in nature, were revealed in response to a request from Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who asked last month that the NSA provide more information on "the intentional and willful misuse of surveillance authorities by NSA employees."
For months major news organizations have reported never-before-seen details of the NSA's incredible surveillance powers - both foreign and domestic - based on a trove of intelligence documents allegedly stolen by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Snowden, charged with espionage-related crimes in the U.S., is currently living in Russia on temporary asylum.
In one 2004 case revealed by the NSA IG, a female NSA employee investigated a foreign telephone number she had discovered in her husband's cell phone contacts because she suspected him of being unfaithful. In another in 2005, on the first day he was granted access to the relevant NSA databases, a male "subject" searched six different e-mail addresses belonging to his ex-girlfriend. He testified that he was just doing it to try out the system, the NSA IG said. In other cases, the employees in question said they had queried unauthorized numbers out of their own security concerns. Another employee said he tracked his own home number and his girlfriend's number "out of curiosity."
The IG, George Ellard, said his office currently has two investigations underway into the purported misuse of the NSA's signals intelligence (SIGINT) capabilities and are looking into another allegation "for possible investigation."
Earlier this week George Washington University's National Security Archive revealed that decades ago the NSA launched spying campaigns on the likes of civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr., boxing legend Muhammad Ali and two prominent U.S. Senators in an episode some NSA officials called "disreputable if not outright illegal."