AP, Politico, Others Ignoring CNET Scoop: 'NSA Admits Listening to U.S. Phone Calls Without Warrants'

In a four-paragraph "Big Story" item time-stamped 10:48 a.m. ("CURRENT, FORMER OFFICIALS BACK SECRET SURVEILLANCE"), Stephen Braun at the Associated Press, aka the Administration's Press, names several Sunday news program guests who he writes are "are supporting the government's collection of phone and Internet data following new revelations about the secret surveillance programs aimed at disrupting terrorist plots." Meanwhile, the Politico is hyping former Vice President Dick Cheney's characterization of Edward Snowden as a "traitor."

Both outlets, and thus far most of the establishment press, are ignoring a report by CNETs Declan McCullagh Saturday afternoon which I believe would be dominating the news by now if anyone except Barack Obama were President. It directly contradicts an assertion Obama made -- "Nobody is listening to your phone calls" -- shortly after the NSA-Snowden story broke, and one of Congress' most liberal Democrats is the source (links are in original; bolds are mine):


NSA admits listening to U.S. phone calls without warrants
National Security Agency discloses in secret Capitol Hill briefing that thousands of analysts can listen to domestic phone calls. That authorization appears to extend to e-mail and text messages too.

The National Security Agency has acknowledged in a new classified briefing that it does not need court authorization to listen to domestic phone calls.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, disclosed this week that during a secret briefing to members of Congress, he was told that the contents of a phone call could be accessed "simply based on an analyst deciding that."

If the NSA wants "to listen to the phone," an analyst's decision is sufficient, without any other legal authorization required, Nadler said he learned. "I was rather startled," said Nadler, an attorney and congressman who serves on the House Judiciary committee.

Not only does this disclosure shed more light on how the NSA's formidable eavesdropping apparatus works domestically, it also suggests the Justice Department has secretly interpreted federal surveillance law to permit thousands of low-ranking analysts to eavesdrop on phone calls.

Because the same legal standards that apply to phone calls also apply to e-mail messages, text messages, and instant messages, Nadler's disclosure indicates the NSA analysts could also access the contents of Internet communications without going before a court and seeking approval.

The disclosure appears to confirm some of the allegations made by Edward Snowden, a former NSA infrastructure analyst who leaked classified documents to the Guardian.

... The NSA yesterday declined to comment to CNET. A representative said Nadler was not immediately available.

... A requirement of the 2008 law (the FISA Amendments Act) is that the NSA "may not intentionally target any person known at the time of acquisition to be located in the United States." A possible interpretation of that language, some legal experts said, is that the agency may vacuum up everything it can domestically -- on the theory that indiscriminate data acquisition was not intended to "target" a specific American citizen.

One suspects that Nadler would be reacting quite differently if anyone other than Obama was president.

Instead, at about 11:15 this morning, a CNN blog post quotes him making an attempt at misdirection:

The congressman, Jerrold Nadler, issued a statement Sunday to CNN regarding his his exchange with Mueller at the hearing.

“I am pleased that the administration has reiterated that, as I have always believed, the NSA cannot listen to the content of Americans’ phone calls without a specific warrant," Nadler said.

The trouble is that Nadler's quote refers to Thursday's hearing with FBI Director Robert Mueller and not the separate "secret Capitol Hill briefing" in the CNET story. If you don't deny what CNET has reported, it doesn't count, Jerry.

The third and fourth paragraphs in Braun's AP report (saved here as a graphic for future reference, fair use and discussion purposes) is written as if the government is "only" looking at metadata and not monitoring content:

The latest comments came as the Washington Post reports that the government runs four major data collection programs — two aimed at phone and Internet metadata and two more targeting contents of phone and Web communication.

The metadata pulled in by the secret programs does not contain communication contents but includes phone and Internet contacts and location information.

If Nadler doesn't back away from what he reportedly said per CNET, Braun, AP and others are withholding important information from their readers, listeners, and viewers.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.