The Chicago Tribune reports that the White House reacted defensively to the news about the collection of domestic phone records. President Bush called a hasty news conference where he tried to assure the American people that “the NSA did not randomly invade the privacy of Americans who subscribe to AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth phone services.”
“We’re not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans,” Bush said. “Our efforts are focused on links to Al Qaeda and their known affiliates . . . .As a general matter, every time sensitive intelligence is leaked, it hurts our ability to defeat this enemy.”
Bloomberg reports, however, that lawmakers from the left and the right are demanding more information from the White House about the program. They said they would also demand answers about the program from Gen. Michael Hayden, the White House’s pick to head the CIA.
At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing yesterday, Chairman Arlen Specter demanded that executives from the three phone companies testify before Congress about their agreement to turn over customer data. “I am determined to get to the bottom of this,” said Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, who added that he will subpoena the telephone companies if they decline to appear before his committee voluntarily. Specter said the report “does not raise concern in my mind about General Hayden, but I think it underscores the need for judicial review” of the NSA’s domestic eavesdropping.
The White House strongly defended Gen. Hayden yesterday, saying “we’re full-steam ahead on his nomination.” The Associated Press also offers an analysis of what the White House and the NSA might do with the vast amounts of data it is collecting on Americans.
If the National Security Agency (NSA) is indeed amassing a colossal database of Americans’ phone records, one way to use all that information is in “social-network analysis,” a data-mining method that aims to expose previously invisible connections among people. Social-network analysis has gained prominence in business and intelligence circles under the belief that it can yield extraordinary insights, such as the fact that people in disparate organizations have common acquaintances. Companies can buy social-networking software to help determine who has the best connections for a particular sales pitch.
AP also reports that experts say that “who you are calling often says more than what you are saying.” And while the NSA has refused to comment, these same experts believe that it’s not only landline communications that the NSA is using to do social-network analysis. “Other forms of communication, including cellphone calls, e-mail and instant messages, likely are trackable targets as well, at least on international networks if not inside the United States.” USAToday, who broke the original story Thursday about the massive datebase, reports Friday that the collection of the data may not violate the Fourth Amendment’s privacy guarantees, but it could violate federal surveillance and tgelecommunications laws.
Despite all this, the Washington Post reports that a poll conducted Thursday night shows that a majority of Americans supports the NSA program to collect phone data information, perhaps believing that the dangers of terrorism matter more than personal privacy.
“Are you telling me that tens of millions of Americans are involved with al-Qaida? These are tens of millions of Americans who are not suspected of anything. … Where does it stop?” – Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“I remain convinced that the program authorized by the president is lawful and absolutely necessary to protect this nation from future attacks.” – Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., on the NSA surveillance program in general.
It’s “fair to say that what was in the newspaper this morning is not content collection. … Nonetheless, I happen to believe we’re on our way to a major constitutional confrontation on Fourth Amendment guarantees of unreasonable search and seizure.” – Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a member of the Judiciary Committee.
“Every time sensitive intelligence is leaked, it hurts our ability to defeat this enemy.” – President Bush.
“That the government may be secretly collecting, and using data mining to analyze, the phone records of millions of law-abiding Americans, as reported in the press today, is a frightening prospect. … It is time for the administration to come clean with Congress and the American people.” – Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., a member of the Judiciary Committee.
“I’m not sure what they’re gathering there, but the privacy thing to me is absolutely important to our democratic society.” – Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa.
“I am concerned about what I read with regard to NSA databases of phone calls.” – House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.
“I have long been concerned about the NSA’s domestic spying program and today’s media reports only reinforce that concern. I also laud Denver-based Qwest Communications for its decision not to share private information with the NSA.” – Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo.
“Enough is enough. It is long overdue for this Congress to end the days of roll-over and rubber stamp and finally assert its power on behalf of the American people to advise and consent before General Hayden becomes (CIA) Director Hayden.” – Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., in a speech at American University.
“Our customers expect, deserve and receive nothing less than our fullest commitment to their privacy. We also have an obligation to assist law enforcement and other government agencies responsible for protecting the public welfare, whether it be an individual or the security interests of the entire nation.” – statement from AT&T Corp.
“We have not provided any information we would need a subpoena for.” – BellSouth Corp. spokesman Jeff Battcher.
“We have been in full compliance with the law and we are committed to our customers’ privacy.” – Verizon Communications Inc. spokesman Bob Varettoni.
“What has happened in the last 24 hours raises questions in my mind about (Hayden’s) credibility for the job. He is the architect of the program. He comes to the intelligence committee, says how concerned he is about privacy. …. This is not what the public thought this program was all about.” – Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.
“While I support aggressively tracking al-Qaida, the administration needs to answer some tough questions about the protection of our civil liberties.” – said Ohio Rep. Deborah Pryce, chairwoman of the House Republican Caucus.
“If these allegations are true and the activities were being conducted under General Hayden while he was in charge of NSA then the administration should withdraw his nomination to be director of the CIA until Congress has full answers about the nature, reach, and legal basis of this program.” – said Rep. David Obey, D-Wis.
“The privacy of all Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities,” Bush said Saturday in his weekly radio address. “The government does not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval. We are not trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans.”
“Americans expect their government to do everything in its power under our laws and Constitution to protect them and their civil liberties,” Bush said. “That is exactly what we are doing. And so far, we have been successful in preventing another attack on our soil.”
“This is the largest and most vast intrusion of civil liberties we’ve ever seen in the United States,” attorney Bruce Afran said.
“He’s going to have to explain what his role was,” Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said Friday, while expressing complete confidence in Hayden’s government service. “To start with, did he put that program forward? Whose idea was it? Why was it started?”
“Mr. Nacchio concluded that these requests violated the privacy requirements of the Telecommunications Act,” attorney Herbert J. Stern said from his Newark, N.J., office.