The National Security Agency tried to wiretap a member of the U.S. Congress without a warrant, and has engaged in "significant and systemic" illegal surveillance activities in the last few months including e-mail and telephone call interceptions, according to a report this week.
The article in Wednesday's New York Times said the Obama administration acknowledged there had been abuses but said they had been resolved. The attempted eavesdropping on a congressman came about because he or she was part of a delegation to the Middle East in 2005 or 2006, and was ultimately blocked.
The NSA said in a statement on Wednesday that "intelligence operations, including programs for collection and analysis, are in strict accordance with U.S. laws and regulations."
The Times reported, without giving details, that the "overcollection" problems were discovered as part of a twice-a-year certification that the Justice Department and the director of national intelligence are required to give to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
Salon.com columnist Glenn Greenwald wrote on Thursday that it was "inevitable" that more NSA surveillance abuses would happen after the Democratic-controlled Congress approved legislation in 2008 that eliminated safeguards and blessed surveillance activities that would otherwise have been illegal.
Greenwald wrote: "That was the purpose of the law: to gut the safeguards in place since the 1978 passage of FISA, destroy the crux of the oversight regime over executive surveillance of Americans, and enable and empower unchecked government spying activities." (FISA is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.)
At the time, in June 2008, the ACLU highlighted a long list of concerns including "loopholes" in the bill to rewrite FISA. Presidential candidate Barack Obama supported the FISA bill--which also granted retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that illegally opened their networks to the NSA--saying it has "appropriate safeguards."