WASHINGTON - Under increasing pressure to justify electronic surveillance programs that at times capture communications of American citizens, the US National Security Agency went to unusual lengths on Friday to insist its activities are lawful and any mistakes largely unintentional.
In a sign of how much heat it has taken since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden started disclosing details of highly classified US surveillance programs, the ultra-secretive intelligence agency held a rare conference call with reporters to counter public perceptions that NSA transgressions were willful violations of rules against eavesdropping on Americans.
The NSA's presentation was an attempt to calm the latest firestorm over documents disclosed by Snowden. The Washington Post late Thursday reported that the NSA had broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since 2008, citing an internal agency audit and other top secret documents.
"These are not willful violations, they are not malicious, these are not people trying to break the law," John DeLong, NSA director of compliance, told reporters.
NSA employees know their actions are recorded and the agency's culture is to report any mistakes, he said, repeatedly stressing that "no one at NSA thinks a mistake is OK."