Specter vows (for about the thirtieth time) to hold hearings
NSA has massive database of Americans' phone calls
By Leslie Cauley, USA TODAY
The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY.
The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren't suspected of any crime. This program does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations. But the spy agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity, sources said in separate interviews.
"It's the largest database ever assembled in the world," said one person, who, like the others who agreed to talk about the NSA's activities, declined to be identified by name or affiliation. The agency's goal is "to create a database of every call ever made" within the nation's borders, this person added.
For the customers of these companies, it means that the government has detailed records of calls they made — across town or across the country — to family members, co-workers, business contacts and others.
The three telecommunications companies are working under contract with the NSA, which launched the program in 2001 shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the sources said. The program is aimed at identifying and tracking suspected terrorists, they said.
From the White House:
The White House defended its overall eavesdropping program and said no domestic surveillance is conducted without court approval.
''The intelligence activities undertaken by the United States government are lawful, necessary and required to protect Americans from terrorist attacks,'' said Dana Perino, the deputy White House press secretary, who added that appropriate members of Congress have been briefed on intelligence activities.
From Capitol Hill:
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would call the phone companies to appear before the panel ''to find out exactly what is going on.''
Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the panel, sounded incredulous about the latest report and railed against what he called a lack of congressional oversight. He argued that the media was doing the job of Congress.
''Are you telling me that tens of millions of Americans are involved with al Qaeda?'' Leahy asked. ''These are tens of millions of Americans who are not suspected of anything ... Where does it stop?''
The Democrat, who at one point held up a copy of the newspaper, added: ''Shame on us for being so far behind and being so willing to rubber stamp anything this administration does. We ought to fold our tents.''
Another thing: how keeping track of calling patterns for all Americans has any value in the "war on terror" is beyond me! Also, I just heard on the Al Franken show that Qwest, the one company that stood up to the NSA, told them that if they went to the FISA court and got the OK, they would hand over the information; evidently, however, this was too much trouble for the people who work so hard to protect us from terrorism.