5 Americans who used NSA facilities to spy on lovers

September 27, 2013

(Photo by Marcel Oosterwijk)

Last month, we reported on LOVEINT, the facetious term used to describe NSA analysts who misuse their surveillance powers to spy on romantic interests instead of terrorists. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) asked the NSA to get more specific about the misconduct the NSA had uncovered. So the NSA sent Grassley a letter with details of the 12 LOVEINT incidents it has uncovered since 2003.

The incidents have a number of things in common. Almost all of them involved spying on foreigners outside of the United States (one man targeted his American girlfriend, and a few others spied on communications involving both Americans and foreigners). In seven of the 12 cases, the misbehaving employee resigned while the disciplinary process was ongoing. The rest received letters of reprimand, got demoted, lost pay, were denied security clearances or faced other punishments. None of the individuals were prosecuted for their actions.

Here are five of the most egregious cases of misconduct:

1. Man spies on nine women over a five-year period.

Between 1998 and 2003, a man listened to the phone conversations of nine different women, all of them foreigners. He got caught when a woman he was sleeping with started to suspect he was spying on her and notified U.S. authorities. On two occasions, he "incidentally collected the communications of a U.S. person." The man was suspended without pay, and resigned before further disciplinary action could be brought against him.

2. Woman spies on prospective boyfriends to make sure they're not "shady characters."

In 2011, a woman used NSA surveillance facilities to spy on her "foreign-national boyfriend and other foreign nationals." She admitted that it "was her practice to enter foreign national phone numbers she obtained in social settings" into the NSA's surveillance system to "ensure that she was not talking to 'shady characters.' " She resigned before she could be disciplined.

3. Man checks whether girlfriend is "involved with any government officials."

In 2003, a man spied on his non-American girlfriend for a month to see whether she was "involved with any [local] government officials or other activities that might get [the man] in trouble." It's not clear if the surveillance involved intercepting telephone calls or just accessing calling records. He admitted his actions to investigators in 2005, but he was allowed to retire before disciplinary action was taken against him.

4. Woman spies on husband to see if he's cheating on her.

In 2004, a woman admitted that she had spied on a "foreign telephone number she had discovered in her husband's cellular phone because she suspected that her husband had been unfaithful." The spying included intercepting call audio. The woman resigned before facing disciplinary action.

5. Man spies on his American ex-girlfriend, says he was just practicing.

On his first day of access to the NSA's surveillance system, a man spied on six e-mail addresses belonging to an ex-girlfriend. The NSA caught him four days later. He claimed that he "wanted to practice on the system and had decided to use this former girlfriend's e-mail addresses." He claimed not to have read anyone's e-mail. He was demoted, assigned 45 days of extra work, lost half his pay for two months, and was denied a security clearance.

SECTION: {section=business/technology, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=2, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: !!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=2, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Comments
SECTION: {section=business/technology, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=2, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: !!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=2, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Show Comments
Most Read Business
Next Story
Timothy B. Lee · September 27, 2013