USA Today has joined the group of newspapers who take it upon themselves to disclosed classified information about our country’s national security efforts:
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.
The sources would talk only under a guarantee of anonymity because the NSA program is secret.
What USA Today does not seem to realize is that this program has been kept secret, not because the government wants to keep American citizens from learning about it, but to keep terrorists from learning about it. That fact was completely lost on USA Today.
The article goes on to say this:
The NSA’s domestic program, as described by sources, is far more expansive than what the White House has acknowledged. Last year, Bush said he had authorized the NSA to eavesdrop — without warrants — on international calls and international e-mails of people suspected of having links to terrorists when one party to the communication is in the USA. Warrants have also not been used in the NSA’s efforts to create a national call database.
In defending the previously disclosed program, Bush insisted that the NSA was focused exclusively on international calls. “In other words,” Bush explained, “one end of the communication must be outside the United States.”
As a result, domestic call records — those of calls that originate and terminate within U.S. borders — were believed to be private.
Sources, however, say that is not the case. With access to records of billions of domestic calls, the NSA has gained a secret window into the communications habits of millions of Americans. Customers’ names, street addresses and other personal information are not being handed over as part of NSA’s domestic program, the sources said. But the phone numbers the NSA collects can easily be cross-checked with other databases to obtain that information.
So we’re supposed to be upset and outraged because the government has a “window” into Americans’ calling habits? I’m not impressed. Marketing companies have far more information on us than that. And we’re supposed to be upset and outraged because the NSA is collecting information on phone calls they aren’t listening to and don’t have any personal information for? Sorry, but I’m not buying it.
What we should be upset and outraged about is that USA Today just made it clear which phone companies would-be-terrorists in the US should be using to avoid detection by the NSA:
Qwest’s refusal to participate has left the NSA with a hole in its database. Based in Denver, Qwest provides local phone service to 14 million customers in 14 states in the West and Northwest. But AT&T and Verizon also provide some services — primarily long-distance and wireless — to people who live in Qwest’s region. Therefore, they can provide the NSA with at least some access in that area.
President Bush just responded to USA Today’s article:
After September the 11th, I vowed to the American people that our government would do everything within the law to protect them against another terrorist attack. As part of this effort, I authorized the National Security Agency to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al-Qaida and related terrorist organizations. In other words, if al-Qaida or their associates are making calls into the United States or out of the United States, we want to know what they’re saying.
Today there are new claims about other ways we are tracking down al- Qaida to prevent attacks on America. I want to make some important points about what the government is doing and what the government is not doing.
First, our international activities strictly target al-Qaida and their known affiliates. Al-Qaida is our enemy, and we want to know their plans. Second, the government does not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval. Third, the intelligence activities I authorized are lawful and have been briefed to appropriate members of Congress, both Republican and Democrat. Fourth, the privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities.
We’re not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans. Our efforts are focused on links to al-Qaida and their known affiliates. So far we’ve been very successful in preventing another attack on our soil.
As a general matter, every time sensitive intelligence is leaked, it hurts our ability to defeat this enemy. Our most important job is to protect the American people from another attack, and we will do so within the laws of our country.
Update: Hot Air has the video of President Bush’s statement.
Update II: John at Power Line comments on the juxtaposition of today’s NSA article to the London bombings:
[I]t’s interesting to juxtapose the NSA stories–this one plus the Agency’s international terrorist surveillance program–with this account of a report earlier today by Britain’s Intelligence and Security Committee on the subway bombings in London last July:
The suicide bombers who killed 52 passengers on London’s transit system had a string of contacts with someone in Pakistan just before striking, Britain’s top law enforcement official said Thursday.
However, authorities admitted they didn’t know what was discussed in those contacts and stuck with their contention that the blasts were a home-grown plot and that the degree of involvement by al-Qaida, if any, was unknown.
Thursday’s report by the Intelligence and Security Committee concluded that intelligence agents had been alerted to two of the suicide bombers before the attacks but limited resources prevented them from uncovering the plot.
Reid, speaking of the contacts in Pakistan ahead of the attacks, said authorities did not know what was discussed. *** “There are a series of suspicious contacts from an unknown individual or individuals in Pakistan in the immediate run-up to the bombings,” Reid said after his department released its narrative of the attacks. “We do not know their content.”
Sounds like they should have listened in on those calls. These are exactly the kind of communications that are intercepted by the NSA under the terrorist surveillance program that has been widely denounced by Democrats.
Others who are outraged at USA Today’s exposing the US’s anti-terrorism efforts: