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August 17, 2013

New NSA revelations stir congressional concern

WASHINGTON — New revelations from leaker Edward Snowden that the National Security Agency has overstepped its authority thousands of times since 2008 are stirring renewed calls on Capitol Hill for serious changes to NSA spy programs, undermining White House hopes that President Barack Obama had quieted the controversy with his assurances of oversight.

An internal audit provided by Snowden to The Washington Post shows the agency has repeatedly broken privacy rules or exceeded its legal authority every year since Congress granted it broad new powers in 2008.

In one of the documents, agency personnel are instructed to remove details and substitute more generic language in reports to the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — reports used as the basis for informing Congress.

Obama has repeatedly said that Congress was thoroughly briefed on the programs revealed by Snowden in June, but some senior lawmakers said they had been unaware of the NSA audit until they read the news on Friday. The programs described earlier vacuum up vast amounts of metadata — such as telephone numbers called and called from, the time and duration of calls — from most Americans’ phone records, and scoop up global Internet usage data.

White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest said Friday that the NSA documents showed that NSA’s Compliance Office established in 2009 “is monitoring, detecting, addressing and reporting compliance incidents,” and that “the majority of the compliance incidents are unintentional.” In a statement from the Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard, where the president is vacationing, he added that the administration is “keeping the Congress appropriately informed of compliance issues as they arise.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy announced he would hold hearings into the new disclosures.

“I remain concerned that we are still not getting straightforward answers from the NSA,” the Vermont Democrat said in a statement.

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