WASHINGTON — The top National Security Agency (NSA) official charged with making sure analysts comply with rules protecting the privacy of Americans pushed back Friday against reports that the agency had frequently violated privacy rules, after the publication of a leaked internal audit showing there had been 2,776 such “incidents” in one year.
The official, John DeLong, the NSA director of compliance, said the number of mistakes by the agency was extremely low compared with its overall activities. The report showed about 100 errors by analysts in making queries of databases of already collected communications data; by comparison, he said, the agency performs about 20 million such queries each month.
DeLong, on a conference call, also said the overwhelming majority of the violations were unintentional human or technical errors and that the existence of the report showed that the agency’s efforts to detect and correct violations of the rules were robust. He said the number of willful errors was “minuscule,” involving a “couple over the past decade.”
“No one at NSA thinks a mistake is OK,” he said.
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The agency convened the conference call Friday after the publication of an article by The Washington Post based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the former agency contractor.
DeLong emphasized that the majority of the 2,776 incidents — 1,904 of them, according to the audit — were in a category that did not involve Americans but rather foreigners abroad whose cellphones were being wiretapped. When they traveled to the United States, the system did not immediately stop recording the calls.