What An NSA Domestic Spying Operation Looks Like

June 6, 2013
by Jason M. Breslow Digital Editor

In this 2005, file photo, a man walks out the Verizon's new corporate headquarters.The Obama administration on Thursday, June 6, 2013, defended the government's need to collect telephone records of American citizens, calling such information "a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats." Britain's Guardian newspaper reported that the NSA has been collecting the telephone records of millions of Verizon customers under a top secret court order. (AP Photo/Dima Gavrysh, File)

Millions of Verizon customers awoke Thursday to learn that the National Security Agency has been secretly collecting their telephone records, under a classified court order granted to the Obama administration in April.

According to a report by The Guardian‘s Glenn Greenwald, the order requires Verizon, one of the nation’s largest telecommunications providers, to give the NSA information on calls from within the U.S., as well as between the U.S. and foreign countries on an “ongoing, daily basis.” That information includes the numbers of both parties on a call, location data and the time and duration of the conversation, according to The Guardian.

The report has brought flashbacks of the highly controversial domestic surveillance program first initiated by the Bush administration in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

The inside story of that effort was uncovered in 2002 by Mark Klein, a former internet technician with AT&T. In the following clip from the FRONTLINE film Spying On The Home Front, Klein describes how he first pieced together that the NSA was building a massive top-secret data mining operation in a nondescript room just steps from his desk. Eventually, he told FRONTLINE, “it all clicked together to me … ‘Oh, that’s what they’re doing. This is a spy apparatus.'”

A senior Obama administration official defended the program Thursday, telling The New York Times that, “Information of the sort described in the Guardian article has been a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States, as it allows counterterrorism personnel to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities, particularly people located inside the United States.”

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