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An article in Thursday's USA Today reported that three of the largest U.S. phone companies have been providing the National Security Agency with phone records from millions of Americans since 9/11. Two senators discuss the program's legal and security issues now that the public is aware of it.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, D-Vt.:
Look at this headline.
Only hours after it appeared in print, the story that the National Security Agency secretly has been gathering a giant database of phone records set off a firestorm on Capitol Hill. Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy was visibly angry about it and lashed out at the Bush administration at a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting scheduled to discuss judicial nominations.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:
Only through the press, we begin to learn the truth. The secret collection of phone call records tens of millions of Americans. Now, are you telling me that tens of millions of Americans are involved with al-Qaida? If that's the case, we've really failed in any kind of a war on terror.
Arizona Republican Jon Kyl responded.
SEN. JON KYL, R-Ariz.:
This is nuts. We are in a war, and we've got to collect intelligence on enemy, and you can't tell the enemy in advance how you're going to do it.
Emblazoned across the front page of USA Today, the lengthy report said the code-breaking National Security Agency contracted three of the nation's largest phone companies to provide records of home and business telephone calls made by their customers.
The NSA earlier was revealed to have been monitoring, without warrants, international phone calls and e-mails thought to be linked to terrorists.
USA Today telecommunications reporter Leslie Cauley spent the last several months preparing today's story.
LESLIE CAULEY, USA Today:
The NSA is collecting the call detail records of millions of ordinary Americans.
The companies reportedly contracted by the spy agency are AT&T, Bell South and Verizon.
The pitch to the phone companies was: We feel this information can be very helpful in smoking out, you know, and tracking suspected terrorists. And, again, three out of the four agreed.
But Qwest, a telecommunications company that provides local phone service to 14 million customers in 14 western and northwestern states, reportedly refused to participate.
All of the telephone companies that worked with the agency refused to comment on specifics, saying only that they are assisting the government in accordance with the law.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, who had voiced earlier concerns about the NSA surveillance program, this morning said he wanted to bring the phone company officials before his panel.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, R-Pa., Judiciary Committee Chairman:
We're going to call on those telephone companies to provide information to try to figure out exactly what is going on.
According to the USA Today report, this NSA program does not involve the listening to or recording of calls.
This program is referring to in-country calls only, meaning calls that originate and terminate within U.S. borders. There is no eavesdropping as part of this particular program.
Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions.
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS, R-Ala.:
But it is not a warrantless wiretapping of the American people. And I don't think this action is nearly as troublesome as being made out here.
But on the House side, Majority Leader John Boehner said the report was troubling.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio, House Majority Leader:
I am concerned about what I read, with regard to the NSA database of phone calls. I don't know enough about the details, except that I'm going to find out, because I am not sure why it would be necessary for us to keep and have that kind of information.
The report came out as former NSA Director General Michael Hayden, who President Bush nominated this week to be the CIA's new director, was scheduled for another round of meetings with congressional members. Hayden spoke after meeting with the Senate's number-two Republican, Mitch McConnell, this afternoon.
GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN, CIA Director-Designate:
All I would want to say is that everything that NSA does is lawful and very carefully done, and that the appropriate members of the Congress — House and Senate — are briefed on all NSA activities. And I think I'd just leave it at that.
California Democrat Dianne Feinstein said that, as a result of today's revelations, Hayden would have an uphill battle seeking confirmation.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, D-Calif.:
I happen to believe we're on our way to a major constitutional confrontation on Fourth Amendment guarantees of unreasonable search and seizure. And I think this is also going to be present a growing impediment to the confirmation of General Hayden, and I think that is very regretted.
The Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to open Hayden's confirmation hearings a week from today.
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