June 16th, 2013
10:02 AM ET
10 years 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. Midiman

    What about text messages? Partial statements don't cut it and probably aren't true anyway.

    June 16, 2013 06:46 pm at 6:46 pm |
  2. Altschuh

    Blah blah blah....more lies to cover the original lies. And they will have to tell even more lies to cover these current lies.

    June 16, 2013 06:47 pm at 6:47 pm |
  3. Dave

    Wow, CNN works so hard to spin this story for the NSA I wonder if they are under a secret "national security" order. The headline CNN has for this story is "NSA is not listening to your calls" when the story going around the world today is exactly the opposite: NSA's private electronic stormtroopers can listen to any one of us at whim while sipping their Starbucks Via. CNN is pathetic.

    June 16, 2013 06:50 pm at 6:50 pm |
  4. Ed

    I do not believe the Obama administration's assurances..............period.

    June 16, 2013 06:56 pm at 6:56 pm |
  5. Ed

    The scandals as of late, underscore my disbelief.

    June 16, 2013 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  6. Sheldon Johnson

    Our administration is not tapping phone lines and snooping internet habits of our citizens. The third-party contractors take care of that very well. Ironically, our admin. wants to use 3rd party vendors to by-pass their own laws and Snowden, the contractor revealed the snooping of NSA on a massive scale.

    June 16, 2013 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  7. Leon

    @EG: Whatever political motivations may or may not be behind the recent flood of leaks is irrelevant. I don't care why the public is finding out about these gross violations of our basic rights at this particular time. The fact that these atrocious acts occurred is enough. The motivations of those leaking the information is mostly irrelevant. These violations have to stop. Period.

    June 16, 2013 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  8. Marie MD

    The same people who tell everyone about their lives, children and what they are doing every single second of the day on facebook, twiter and do stunpid things to get on you tube.
    Hypocrites anyone?

    June 16, 2013 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  9. Ted Nolan

    Americans believe NSA as much as they do the recording heard while on hold: Your call is import to us

    June 16, 2013 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  10. 1amWendy

    Funny, but that's not the story being reported at cnet. According to Rep. Jerrold Nadler, during a Thursday Congressional briefing the NSA stated that an analyst's decision to listen to a phone call is sufficient, without any other legal authorization required. Diane Feinstein also "separately acknowledged that the agency's analysts have the ability to access the "content of a call." Furthermore, a former FBI counterterrorism agent (Tim Clemente) that the FBI can access records of previously made phone calls (that means our calls are recorded and stored – his quote: "All of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not."). Rogers appears to be flat out lying.

    June 16, 2013 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
  11. BradK

    Ridiculous. It simply ridiculous to even try and believe a politician. Oh, and he is an old FBI guy. Come on. Get serious. They will never come out and say, HEY, yeah, we are listening. And yeah, we know its illegal. They will spin this as much as possible to try and get everyone to loose focus on it. And, snowden, that dude is a hero and has not betrayed his country. He did this country a service.

    June 16, 2013 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
  12. gypsymoth

    The legal fig leaf for years has been known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, going back to the Church investigations of the 70s and the Act's codification in 1978. The stipulations and assurances therein were that the foreign intelligence agencies were constrained from spying/surveilling inside the "homeland" (aka USA). The homeland turf belonged to the FBI spies. Well, maybe those distinctions and boundaries are non-starters in these days of government by fear and loathing.

    It now looks like Rep. Rogers has either made a Freudian slip or at least given a re-branding to the FISA processes. What have been called FISA Courts - the vaporous entity giving self-defined legitimacy to what has already been decided - are now called "Federal Intelligence Surveillance Courts", apparently no longer *Foreign* Intelligence Surveillance Act Courts.

    Under that bureaucratic metamorphosis all contingencies are covered, without constraint, without jurisdictional fictions, without meddlesome clauses, forever and ever. One Big Brother.

    June 16, 2013 07:10 pm at 7:10 pm |
  13. Scott

    S-u-u-u-r-e. We believe you. Really.

    June 16, 2013 08:14 pm at 8:14 pm |
  14. Richard

    Going back to listen to how statements are worded and listening to what is NOT said as well as to what IS said, one politician or government representative said, and I'm paraphrasing here, "We aren't listening to every phone call and reading every email and, we DON'T WANT TO." (as if they cared).

    It's TRUE; they AREN'T listening to and reading each piece of correspondence, HOWEVER, they ARE buidling and expanding servers to STORE every form of communication from practially EVERY communication on the face of the planet (Wired magazine about June 2012).

    They (US government) are also working on developing the ability to crack every encryption key known to man and once that ability is gained, they will go back, when they want, and read what they have in the data warehouse (Wired Magazine about June 2012).

    Going back to the first paragraph above, the government truly doesnt' want to read and listen to each and every communication because it's inneficient, impossible and would result in information overload. So, again, that statement is exactly true – on the surface.

    Also, going back to compare the statements from paragraph one above to Snowden's main allegations per the media, the issue isn't about them reading and listening to each and every communication from each of us; it's about the use of all forms of data "explicitly" NOT covered under any laws.

    If you read or listen to the media without thinking about what you just read, it all sounds nice and you are not being violated.

    The best way to hide in front of people is do do things slowly so as not to be noticed.

    Honest people and liars think differently. Unfortunately, honest people need to learn to think like a liar while continuing to be honest.

    It's up to you what you believe. You are the honest frog in that pan of cool, soothing water that has a slow fire burning fire of deceit under it.

    June 16, 2013 08:19 pm at 8:19 pm |
  15. Richard

    Hmmm....NSA metadata scandal, IRS targeting certain political groups, attempts at gun control, national ID card (another database about YOU) coming up for a vote (while you are paying attention to Snowden and NSA instead)

    Again: NSA has abiity to 'ascertain' what you are doing/thinking with metadata DATABASE even without reading or listening (the government said it themselves – go read for yourself) – knowing your thoughts, intents and actions, IRS (has a DATABASE of people and their money) targets a political group that is of the opposite party from the one currently in office (stiffeling political dissent), National ID card with a DATABASE of your biometrics.

    What's that last one? Oh, yea! Your guns. What do people do when they've been pushed up against the wall by their government? What do they use to do it? Is there a reason that certain people want you to have no weapons?

    Well....maybe...maybe not.

    Am I wearing a tin-foil hat? Maybe....maybe not. If I am, good for you; if I'm not, bad for you.

    I wouldn't dismiss those points COMPLETELY if I were you.

    June 16, 2013 08:37 pm at 8:37 pm |
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