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The Senate Armed Services Committee’s ranking member will launch an investigation into the Obama administration’s potentially illegal surveillance of U.S. citizens following revelations that the National Security Administration (NSA) violated legal boundaries imposed by Congress.
The Washington Post reported on Thursday that the NSA “overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008.”
Many of these legal violations involved the “unauthorized” surveillance of American citizens in the United States, according to the Post’s report.
Sen. James Inhofe (R., Okla.) said on Saturday that he will now “work to investigate as to what laws were broken by the Administration,” according to a statement provided to the Free Beacon.
“The NSA violations recently reported by the Washington Post are very concerning as it appears the Obama Administration has abused the authority granted to them by Congress,” Inhofe said.
“NSA has been an essential tool in fighting terrorism, as seen in preventing the New York City subway bomb plot in 2009 as well as countless other classified incidences where we could have lost a number of innocent Americans,” Inhofe said.
Inhofe said that it is critical for Congress to uphold its duty to act as a check on the Obama administration, particularly when it comes to clandestine dealings that impact U.S. citizens.
“Congress has an important role to provide oversight of the NSA, and as Ranking Member of Senate Armed Services, I will work to investigate as to what laws were broken by the Administration,” Inhofe said. “As we uncover any violations, it is important we strike a balance of civil liberty protections with intelligence collection against those seeking to attack us overseas and here at home.”
The Obama administration may have violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act of 2008, which bar U.S. intelligence services such as the NSA from electronically spying on Americans.
The FISA Act gives the government broad powers to spy on foreigners abroad.
“In one instance, the NSA decided that it need not report the unintended surveillance of Americans,” the Post reported.
Information about these infractions was withheld from Congress and other government watchdog officials, according to the Post.
The revelations prompted outrage from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to express, as well as calls for greater transparency.
John DeLong, the NSA’s compliance director, told reporters on Friday that the violations were routine mistakes.
“People need to understand there’s no willful violations here,” DeLong was quoted as saying.
The NSA does not intentionally spy on Americans, but often stumbles across such information when sorting through large volumes of electronic data.
“No one at NSA, not me or anyone else, thinks they are okay,” DeLong was quoted as saying.
The NSA’s defenders argue that the organization combs through such a large amount of data that minor and unintentional infractions are bound to occur.