June 16th, 2013
10:02 AM ET
10 months ago

Rogers: NSA ‘is not listening’ to Americans’ phone calls

Updated 8:22 p.m. ET, Sunday, 6/16

(CNN) – The chairman of the House intelligence committee strongly asserted Sunday that the National Security Agency is not recording Americans’ phone calls under U.S. surveillance programs, and any statements suggesting differently amount to “misinformation.”

Lining up with Obama administration officials — and the president himself — Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Michigan, said the NSA “is not listening to Americans’ phone calls” or monitoring their e-mails.

“If it did, it is illegal. It is breaking the law,” Rogers said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I think (Americans) think there's this mass surveillance of what you're saying on your phone call and what you're typing in your e-mails. That is just not happening.”

The NSA has repeatedly said that it collects only metadata — phone numbers and duration — of phone calls, but not the actual conversations taking place. If it needs to listen to a conversation, it must first obtain an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

But during a House judiciary committee hearing Thursday with FBI Director Robert Mueller, a Democratic congressman from New York said he was told in a classified discussion that NSA analysts were capable of obtaining specific information from phone calls without a warrant.

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.

Sunday night, the office of the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, seemed to respond to Nadler's query, saying "the statement that a single analyst can eavesdrop on domestic communications without proper legal authorization is incorrect and was not briefed to Congress."

The statement from the DNI's office went on to say that Section 702 of the Patriot Act—-the section that refers to online surveillance—-only "targets foreigners located overseas for a valid foreign intelligence purpose, and that it cannot be used to target Americans anywhere in the world."

The statement did not mention Section 215, the part of the Patriot Act that deals with phone records.

For his part, Rogers strongly pushed back at the question of whether anyone in the U.S. government was listening to the phone calls. He said “there is all this misinformation about what these programs are,” and he hopes the public will soon come to better understand how the programs disrupted terrorist plots.

The intelligence community provided some of that counterterrorism justification, releasing a document Saturday to members of Congress and to CNN that says officials searched the database — which holds billions of phone records - fewer than 300 times last year.

Along with the online surveillance program known as PRISM, the information-gathering has helped disrupt dozens of plots in the U.S and more than 20 countries, the document reported.

Read more: Intelligence community provides fuller justification for data collection

“They’re doing this right, and it is protecting the United States from terrorist attacks being plotted overseas. This is an important program to continue,” Rogers told CNN’s chief political correspondent Candy Crowley.

“I think it's harder to catch (terrorists) if we don't have something like this,” he said.

Asked about NSA leaker Edward Snowden, Rogers said the former contractor has “betrayed the country.”

“It goes beyond the bounds of him trying to claim he's a whistle-blower - which he is not. A whistle-blower comes to the appropriate authorities with appropriate classifications, so we can investigate a possible claim,” Rogers said. “He didn't do that. He grabbed up information, he made preparations to go to China and then … bolted.”

– CNN's Gregory Wallace contributed to this report.


Filed under: Mike Rogers • NSA • State of the Union
soundoff (190 Responses)
  1. brainrubbing

    Uh, this is journalism?

    June 16, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  2. Guy

    Not listening, but translating voice to text and then running keywords is even worse because you can't tell when people are joking or swaying something sarcastically or even just discussing opinions and current events.

    June 16, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  3. It was coming.

    [citation needed]

    June 16, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  4. Athenasaints

    NSA, of course you are not listening to American's phone calls. You just outsource to some private companies, have their computers listening to our phone calls.

    June 16, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  5. Frank

    Notice they don't want to talk about the internet, because they can't deny they won't deny that everything, EVERYTHING is being recorded. Every dotted i and every crossed t is recorded in their databases. These are just tactics to divert people from what is going on....

    June 16, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  6. Guy

    Head of NSA says snowden is lying about being able to tap any specific person. I would rather that they be able to do that as part of an investigation, than putting surveillance on the whole nation.

    June 16, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  7. bergus

    liar, liar, pants on fire...

    June 16, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  8. william Poole

    Who really believes that the NSA isn't listening to US Citizens phone calls? Ok, lets do the facts. Half of the American population is locked up in prison, and lets not not forget the ex-con's, and the loved ones of the Convicted felon's. So who believes that the NSA isn't listening to US Citizens phone calls are only the Government.

    June 16, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  9. allenwoll

    .
    If we could just bag them up and sell them on the exotic foods market : Weird nuts !
    .

    June 16, 2013 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  10. Kevin H

    Oh no, tell me it isn't so, our national security community could do something illegal – in the US – or outside. And our Members of Congress and the Executive Branch looks the other way. Why it's simply not possible – no way, can't happen. And if it didn't I couldn't recall. Why it would be just NORTH of reality. Or perhaps a plumber could plug some leaks – and then become a radio talk show host. Or hmmm...perhaps one could go on the HUNT for drugs in foreign countries inadvertently funding the activities of our sworn enemy in a place called Cuba. No way dude, say it isn't so. Our patriotic intelligence community would NEVER engage in anything illegal – and even if it did...any knowledge of it would be disavowed and it would be considered illegal and even unpatriotic.

    June 16, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  11. ryan

    I'm not as paranoid as some commenters regarding emails and phone listening, remote camera activation and remote microphone activation. But, I am disturbed that the Federal Government thinks it is ok to interpret laws secretly, and not tell us how they are being applied against us.

    June 16, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  12. Anonymous

    "I don't think most people realize how ridiculous it is to suggest that the government is actually listening in to our phone calls and reading our emails. Think about it..."

    They can capture the information and access it later if they wish. This is only possible through advances in technology and that ability will only grow. Like Google placing ads in gmail, they probably scan the content for key words. At the very least, they are collecting call records on everyone and can authorize domestic wiretaps on anyone with the click of a mouse using a blanket warrant rubber stamped by the FOREIGN Intelligence Surveillance Court. The notion that a reaction to such a clear violation of the fourth amendment is "a politically motivated attack on this administration" is born out of paranoia. Rogers is a Republican.

    June 16, 2013 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  13. sundownr

    Let's see if I got this right. An Intel official is telling America the biggest liar in the world is not tapping American's phones. This is exactly what America needs... more self certification from the top. LOL

    June 16, 2013 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  14. Miguel

    "I don't think most people realize how ridiculous it is to suggest that the government is actually listening in to our phone calls and reading our emails. Think about it..."

    They can capture the information and access it later if they wish. This is only possible through advances in technology and that ability will only grow. Like Google placing ads in gmail, they probably scan the content for key words. At the very least, they are collecting call records on everyone and can authorize domestic wiretaps on anyone with the click of a mouse using a blanket warrant rubber stamped by the FOREIGN Intelligence Surveillance Court. The notion that a reaction to such a clear violation of the fourth amendment is "a politically motivated attack on this administration" is born out of paranoia. Rogers is a Republican.

    June 16, 2013 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  15. Gregg Teslovich

    Just heard Rep. Rogers discussion on CNN. I thought he answered the questions people are most concerned about in an intelligent, factual and analytical manner. Now if he were only a Democrat I would vote for him. Anyway, not mentioned is that all this pointless disclosure is just making it more difficult to prevent and solve national and international crimes of theft and homicide. More people are going to die and more intellectual and personal property will be stolen as a result of this exposure. Slippery slope people get real, how much time are a few thousand NSA/CIA agents (secretly 2headed aliens), viewing 3 billion calls. 294 billion emails. 6.4 billion internet searches each day, going to spend on us chatting/emailing with grandmama or searching online for her apple pie recipe? Each agent would have to monitor 100 million such communications – EVERY DAY. That is going to be one big backlog – real quick. Additionally, personal security in this, not-exactly still the 1700s environment, would greatly increase if we expand not only that auditory data monitoring, but camera/visual based monitoring. Yes, I know, the slippery slope purists new paranoia is fantasizing government eyes watching every person walk and drive everywhere – even of me driving to get grandmama's pie! Good luck aliens in trying to watch Septillions of videos each day?

    June 16, 2013 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  16. harrisonhits2

    Yes the same people who said they weren't recording anything of American calls or net usage now say they only listed to calls relating to 300 numbers. The lies just keep pouring out of these people's mouths. They commit treason on a daily basis and act offended that someone would challenge them on it.

    What they deserve is the traditional penalty for treason.

    June 16, 2013 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  17. ThinkAgain

    @Bobby re: James Bamford's books: Bamford does not claim that the NSA is listening in to all phones calls and reading all emailsl in fact, he maintains that the NSA isn't doing the best job because they are inundated with so much meta data, they can't always spot patterns (which is one reason why the Boston Marathon bombing was not thwarted).

    Another article this week about Bamford puts it best: "Bamford simply wants the spies to account for what they do before they do it: “You want to do this?” he says of the N.S.A.’s Prism program. “Put a bill through Congress. Have a public debate.”

    June 16, 2013 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  18. lalala

    This is old stuff.
    Project ECHELON has been listening for a long time to all comms.
    Voiceprints can be used to id the parties involved. There are less than fifty distinct sounds in english. Record someone for awhile and then you can make them say anything.

    Lalala

    June 16, 2013 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  19. Frank

    Repeat after me: Edward Snowden is the traitor, not the people who enacted these tools to spy on US citizens.

    Keep repeating it until you begin to believe.

    June 16, 2013 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  20. ThinkAgain

    @william Poole:When you claim that "half of the American population is locked up in prison" (actually, 0.7% of American adults are in prison), then the rest of what you say is unreliable and dismissed.

    That said, I think all you Repubs need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and realize that the Patriot Act was written and pushed for by the GW Bush Administration. President Obama signed the bill to reauthorize key aspects of it – but can you imagine if he had not done so?

    If you want real change to the Patriot Act and real oversight of the NSA, stop voting for Repubs who accuse anyone of treason who tries to do this.

    June 16, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  21. lalala

    They are listening...
    Read abt ECHELON.
    It is illegal to listen to us.
    So, the britains listen to us and we listen to the britains to alleviate their concerns abt the law.
    Echelon can and does hv the ability to listen and perform voice prints to id the speaker.

    June 16, 2013 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  22. matt

    I do believe the fact that he states that they look at the numbers and figure out where the numbers. Than they decide if that is a conversation that they want to hear. I am pretty sure that they can easily get the warrant to listen in on the conversation as long as there is some sort of underlying evidence that it could be from a terrorist group such as the country. There are just to many phone calls and what not to listen to. Who would want to listen to a couple of teenage girls. It is a necessary evil during these times that they are able to do this. Granted I do believe they need to kind of open up about the project to ease the mind of americans, but like I said it is a necessary evil as long as people want to kill each other for their own purpose.

    June 16, 2013 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  23. Steve

    If it looks and smells like doo doo, then it's doo doo!

    June 16, 2013 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  24. TommytheT

    right and in 2010 every one believed the IRS was not targeting groups based on their political philosophy. The press and congress laughed at any one that suggested such a thing.

    And 3 years later what did we find out?.

    June 16, 2013 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  25. alex

    It makes me very frustrated how they word it in a deceiving way. Yes, they are not listening to everyone's calls or reading everyones emails without a FISC order (which is a rubber stamp court). The way they are wording it means they are collecting all our phone conversations and emails and are just not reading them. How do we know the law won't change in the future to allow them to read the emails or listen to the calls without a FISC? The government is not responsible enough to hold on to such information.

    June 16, 2013 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
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