After an NSA spokesperson admitted a handful of "willful violations of NSA's authorities" over the past ten years, The Wall Street Journal reports a simple but worrying reason for some breaches: the officers were spying on an object of affection. Previously, two officials told Bloomberg that a few violations involved love interests, but another attributed the willful overreaches to overzealous analysts looking to prevent a terrorist attack. Now, sources tell the Journal that "LOVEINT" violations — a play on labels like SIGINT (Signals Intelligence) — make up most of the misconduct cases, with agents spying on someone like a spouse or partner.
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has said that most improper surveillance doesn't involve Americans, and officials told the Journal that the LOVEINT violations were of overseas communications — which would still blatantly violate the law, but would avoid the purely domestic spying that caused trouble for the NSA in 2011 and possibly wouldn't touch the NSA's domestic infrastructure at all. When officers were found to have spied on love interests, they were apparently disciplined in some cases and terminated in others.
Misconduct, according to the officials, generally got caught when agents admitted to it, sometimes in the course of polygraph tests that were required to keep a security clearance. The NSA has previously touted its strict oversight procedures and technical limitations, but there's no sign that these were instrumental in catching the violations. A new report from the Associated Press also suggests that covering up evidence is far from impossible. Officials tell the AP that Snowden deleted or bypassed surveillance logs that should have kept a record of what he copied, raising the question of whether his skills were uniquely sophisticated — or whether other officers could use the same techniques to their own ends.