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. Peace

    Rep. Mike Rogers, there is no law which allows any citizen to die. There is a law which allow every citizen to be protected. Rep. Rogers, even if there are people listening to calls or reading emails, they are doing so under the law of protecting all people. Why are you there? while you do not understand what law to use for the sake of people who elected you?

    June 16, 2013 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  2. plain&simple

    Whatever Snowden did.......he has sure stirred the pot and has people scrambling!!! Thecat and mouse game has aalways existed and will continue to do so. Does anyone believe we can live in a world wherethings like evil andsusubversion don't exist??? There is nothing new under the sun here....deal with it.

    June 16, 2013 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  3. Bobby

    We're having this conversation because it was revealed that the NSA DOES LISTEN to the phone calls of Americans (and whether or not that's warranted by a court isn't the point). The point is the NSA does listen, and has the capability to listen, and can use its capabilities surrepticiously because it does not have transparent oversight. The court does not oversee/manage the NSA's programs; rather, the NSA initiates a list of targets and then goes to the court. The nature of that relationship and the inherent power dynamic (whereby the "all-seeing" and "all-hearing" NSA goes to the "blind" and "deaf" court for permission) doesn't inspire confidence in Americans that their civil liberties are protected. And that's the point, no matter now you slice it, our civil liberties are not protected.

    June 16, 2013 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  4. Larry L

    The paranoid and fearful, tainted by too many hours listening to the conspiricies and distortions from the right-wing media, made up their minds without actually knowing any of the details. Once again, the facts directly conflict with the conspiracy and the tin-foil hat club looks foolish.

    June 16, 2013 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  5. Yuri

    Of course the NSA, nor the administration are going to say stuff that will incriminate themselves.

    June 16, 2013 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  6. Bassmaster22

    Hogwash. Of course they are recording it. It's like getting caught with your pants down with your neighbor and telling your wife that "it's not how it looks."
    The burden of proof is now on the NSA to show us that they are not. Good luck with that.
    Conversely, if anyone didn't think this was already happening then they are brainless. I'm not a conspiracy theorist. I couldn't care less if they are listening or not.

    June 16, 2013 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  7. Ken

    Should we believe this statement? Just a few months ago, they completely denied the existence of the program.

    June 16, 2013 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  8. SixDegrees

    This is an attempt to change the topic. We get it – you're not listening to the content of phone calls. Even though I believe this is a lie, it isn't the point. The point is: you're collecting the start and end point of phone calls, their geographic locations, the time they take place, their duration and reams of other data related to the call without a hint of probable cause. THAT's the problem. Making a lot of noise about "we're not listening" is a diversion, an attempt to talk about something else. The real problem is your collection of all that other data on tens of billions of calls every month – with no apparent purpose. You can't point to a single instance where this activity has prevented or even aided in the investigation of a terrorist plot, and it's really looking like you're either embarrassed by getting caught spending untold billions of dollars on a failed program, or you're running an entirely different kind of program altogether that has nothing to do with terrorism, but seems to have a whole lot to do with monitoring all kinds of citizen's activities.

    June 16, 2013 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  9. B

    Ahahahahahahaha........yeah right .

    June 16, 2013 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  10. Vin

    Well I guess everything is alright then huh.......

    June 16, 2013 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  11. wildbill

    All you people are lying,including the president. If he wants adebate then do it with a few american citizens and I will be one of them. I WILL call him a lier to his face. P.s. we need a revolution!!!

    June 16, 2013 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  12. Anonymous

    “is not listening to Americans’ phone calls” - Semantics

    Of course they are not, that would take as long as the call themselves. They are recording them in case they do want to listen to them.

    June 16, 2013 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  13. G tech

    NSA not listening to Americans.
    I said we're not listening to Americans.

    June 16, 2013 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  14. Thomas Henley

    The NSA is absolutely recording the calls, and they are having computers listen to them and search for key words.

    It is absolutely illegal too, they keep pretending because computers are inanimate objects that humans aren't involved in the process, therefor there is no process, but there is absolutely a process that humans are behind...that process is recording all calls, having computers analyze, categorize, catalog and then store the calls.

    June 16, 2013 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  15. Larry

    Yeah. And the check's in the mail, I love you, and my wife's open-minded about things....

    Anyone who thinks NSA isn't listening is stupid. However, they're doing so with an automated system that keys in on key words, so it still is a case of "Big Brother." You say the wrong things, you're on the watch list.

    And, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they ain't out to get you.

    June 16, 2013 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  16. Bob

    NO one who leaks classified information is a hero period and I wish the media would shut up. Now they talk about his girlfriends, food he eats, etc what kind of bozo media do we have. Has anyone taken a second to think that in America we are giving people who break OUR laws way more than the 15 minutes they deserve. Where do we draw the line on accepting violation of our laws. Either we repeal them or enforce them. This coward tells the media we are hacking China and is that OK? No. We ignore our laws about entering the U.S. , now many commenters ignore our laws about classified information, what is next? Either we are a nation of laws, repeal them or go ahead and flush the toilet.

    June 16, 2013 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  17. mdcambridge

    All semantics avoiding saying "recording" of conversations for listening to later.

    June 16, 2013 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  18. George

    The meta data that is being collected is also GPS locations of the caller. This is important to note.

    June 16, 2013 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  19. DavidS

    BTW, I have never cared if you post any of my comments. Those that I wanted to see have already read it.

    June 16, 2013 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  20. DavidS

    The Metadata is the Conversation.

    June 16, 2013 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  21. mdcambridge

    Whistleblower is NOT someone who goes to the "appropriate authority;" note there is NO appropriate authority when it comes to divulging classified improprieties.

    June 16, 2013 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  22. Tutuvabene

    Don't believe him. The NSA is listening in and reading emails. Prove otherwise.

    June 16, 2013 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  23. disguyhere

    it's only disinformation if it's not true... but we've already heard from members of the nsa that it is, so who's running the disinformation now?

    June 16, 2013 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  24. purewebdev

    Don't see why no one is believing the NSA when they say they don't record or listen to calls.... they have contractors that do that kind of stuff for them.

    June 16, 2013 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  25. Bommel

    Just replace "Intel official" with "Former FBI agent" and his statement makes perfect sense.....

    June 16, 2013 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
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