Our NSA watchers earnestly desire for us to believe that their vast and secretive surveillance apparatus is only for use against foreign terrorists and enemies of the United States. And yet it emerges that abuse of their surveillance machine for purely personal and prurient interest is so common and so widespread, they’ve got in-house spy jargon for it. You know how they use those nifty telegram-era all-caps acronyms? Like “SIGINT” for “signals intelligence”? Well, according to the Wall Street Journal the term for using the tools of your NSA job for spying on your spouse, sexual partners, and potential sexual partners is LOVEINT:

National Security Agency officers on several occasions have channeled their agency’s enormous eavesdropping power to spy on love interests, U.S. officials said.

The practice isn’t frequent — one official estimated a handful of cases in the last decade — but it’s common enough to garner its own spycraft label: LOVEINT.

The “LOVEINT” examples constitute most episodes of willful misconduct by NSA employees, officials said.

The LOVEINT violations involved overseas communications, officials said, such as spying on a partner or spouse. In each instance, the employee was punished either with an administrative action or termination.

Most of the incidents, officials said, were self-reported. Such admissions can arise, for example, when an employee takes a polygraph tests as part of a renewal of a security clearance.

There’s a ton of log-rolling in the article as various officials attempt to emphasize just how terribly rare these LOVEINT abuses are. But then we get to the admission that the NSA never actually catches anybody who abuses their systems in this way; they only know about the ones who are so naive about the bogosity of polygraphs that they confess to this behavior voluntarily. Which is another way of saying, NSA has literally no idea how much LOVEINT collection actually goes on. But it seems unlikely they’d have slang and jargon for a rare activity.

Notice, also, how NSA has never prosecuted anybody for LOVEINT abuses? “Administrative action or termination” is the punishment. If there was real official condemnation of the behavior, they’d have put somebody in prison for it. They don’t really mind.

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