May 11, 2006


NSA has massive database of Americans' phone calls (Leslie Cauley, 5/11/06, 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.

Did they think TIA would go away just because Admiral Poindexter was forced to? The really interesting question is whether the leak comes from Secretary Rumsfeld or General Hayden's prospective underlings at the CIA.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 11, 2006 7:51 AM

I haven't seen the article, but it should mention that this program (and the technical basis for such data collection/comparison) began in the mid-1990s, under a DEMOCRATIC administration. And there were people in Congress who asked questions about it, but they were dismissed as right-wing nuts (like Bob Barr).

Perhaps the White House should just say that they have all of Nancy Pelosi's real estate transactions and bank/brokerage accounts on file, and they will be released on the Internet because of the 'pattern' of wealth they show. Same for Jay Rockefeller, Ted Kennedy, and yes, Mr. Shakedown himself, Jesse Jackson.

Posted by: jim hamlen at May 11, 2006 8:09 AM

Why do they write it this way; you would think that they've never seen an episode of '24, Alias, Sleeper
Cell, The Grid, or even L& O. Datamining is an imperative in this day and age.

Posted by: narciso79 at May 11, 2006 8:10 AM

If they recorded mine, I pity the agent who listened in; poor sap probably died of boredom.

Posted by: Mikey at May 11, 2006 8:18 AM

What NSA is tracking here, if the reports are correct, is so-called envelope information. It is the information, like the address and return address on an envelope, that is necessary for the proper routing of the message. In other words, the NSA isn't getting any information that is not necessarily known to ATT, MCI, etc., and whatever phone companies they are passing the call too, including foreign companies.

The Fourth Amendment does not protect envelope information.

Posted by: David Cohen at May 11, 2006 9:38 AM

David: Exactly. You have expressed the distiction succinctly and well. The article is cynically glib concerning blurring "envelope information" and content information.

Posted by: Lou Gots at May 11, 2006 10:34 AM

The NYT used similar obfuscation with the phrase "domestic wiretapping" in the earlier leak, when it was clear that only international calls were being monitored.

Posted by: Gideon at May 11, 2006 11:38 AM

Big Brother is watching. But I prefer our Big Brother any day to their Jihadist brothers.

Posted by: ic at May 11, 2006 4:12 PM