One more count for the impeachment of George W. Bush.
NSA has collected 'tens of millions' of phone records
"The phone call records of tens of millions of Americans" have been secretly collected by the National Security Agency since President Bush authorized the so-called warrantless eavesdropping program after the 9/11 attacks, USA TODAY is reporting.
Citing "people with direct knowledge of the arrangement," the newspaper reports that the program "is far more expansive than what the White House has (previously) acknowledged." It has also been conducted, USA TODAY writes, with cooperation from AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth.
The story builds on reporting that began last Dec. 15, when The New York Times wrote that "months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying." Times reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau won Pulitzers prizes for their work on the story.
That report was followed by stories in several other media.
The Los Angeles Times reported on Dec. 26 that "some U.S. officials and outside experts" suspected the NSA was using "a sprawling network of land-based satellite transponder stations and friendly foreign intelligence agencies and telecommunication companies to collect millions of phone calls, e-mails and other communications."
On Feb. 6, USA TODAY wrote that "the National Security Agency has secured the cooperation of large telecommunications companies, including AT&T, MCI and Sprint, in its efforts to eavesdrop without warrants on international calls by suspected terrorists, according to seven telecommunications executives."
USA TODAY's new story, however, provides evidence that the program has not been aimed at collecting information just on calls to or from suspected terrorists overseas, as officials have insisted, but also on calls placed "across town or across the country — to family members, co-workers, business contacts and others." The NSA, a source told the newspaper, has put together " the largest database ever assembled in the world" in this effort.
The newspaper notes that the program "does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations." But, according to USA TODAY's sources, the spy agency is using the data to "analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity."
Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden headed the NSA from March 1999 to April 2005. He is now President Bush's nominee to head the CIA. He declined to comment on USA TODAY's findings.
NSA spokesman Don Weber would not comment "on the work we do." But, he said, " it is important to note that NSA takes its legal responsibilities seriously and operates within the law.”
White House Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino also would not comment on the program, but added that all national intelligence activities undertaken by the federal government “are lawful, necessary and required for the pursuit of al-Qaeda and affiliated terrorists.”