The National Security Agency broke privacy rules or overstepped its legal bounds thousands of times each year since Congress granted it broad new powers in 2008, according to news reports published Thursday night.
An internal audit of the agency based in suburban Maryland turned up almost 2,800 incidents within a year, according to a report by The Washington Post.
The majority of the incidents involve unauthorized spying on Americans or foreign intelligence targets in the United States, the Post reports.
Many of the incidents mentioned in the audit obtained by the Post were connected to failures of due diligence or failure to follow standard operating procedure.
In one instance, the news organization reports, the NSA decided that it was not necessary to report it had unintentionally taken part in surveillance of Americans. One example involved a mix-up in which the Washington area code 202 was mistaken for the Egypt telephone country code of 20, the Post reported. Another set of incidents involved unauthorized use of data concerning more than 3,000 Americans and green-card holders, according to the Post.
The report was based on documents provided earlier this summer to the Post by Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor wanted by the United States for leaking secrets regarding NSA intelligence gathering.
In a statement released Aug. 9 on its website, the NSA said that its staff members "are obligated to report when they believe NSA is not, or may not be, acting consistently with law, policy or procedure."
The NSA told the Post in a statement that it tries to identify problems "at the earliest possible moment, implement mitigation measures wherever possible and drive the numbers down."
"We're a human-run agency operating in a complex environment with a number of different regulatory regimes, so at times we find ourselves on the wrong side of the line," a senior NSA official said in an interview, speaking to the newspaper with White House permission on the condition of anonymity.