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Spying on love interests made up most of the “willful misconduct” by NSA officers over the past decade, the agency said.

A National Security Agency audit made public last week revealed that the agency violated privacy laws nearly 3,000 times over a one-year period.

In its defense, the NSA claimed that the bulk of those incidents were unintentional errors by analysts, and only a handful of “willful” violations have occurred over the past decade. But what motivated NSA employees to act outside the law in those cases?

According to the Washington Post, they wanted to spy on their love interests.

In fact, tracking one’s partner or spouse is so common that the intelligence community has a code word for it: LOVEINT.

NSA officials didn’t tell the Post exactly how many instances of LOVEINT they’ve seen, but they did say the cases typically involved international communications, and that the employees in question were all punished or terminated.

Most of these rogue employees weren’t caught red-handed—they actually tend to turn themselves in rather than risk failing the agency’s routine polygraph tests.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) confirmed to the Post that the Senate intelligence committee, which she chairs, knew about 10 cases of intentional NSA privacy violations in the past 10 years. 

“In most instances,” she said, no American’s personal information was involved. Both Feinstein and NSA officials have also claimed that none of the incidents violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which regulates the NSA’s domestic spying.

Photo via chrisgold/Flickr

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NSA audit finds agency broke surveillance laws thousands of times a year
According to a top secret audit, in the 12-month period preceding March 2012 alone, the agency committed 2,776 violations.
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