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. abmri60

    Really ?!?

    June 16, 2013 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  2. Bobby

    The Congressman assertions are entirely inaccurate and are intended to defend the NSA and obfuscate the facts. Read James Bamford's books, "The Puzzle Palace," and "Digital Fortress," (whose research and publication the NSA supported) and you'll find that the NSA collects and records "EVERYTHING" (and, yes, that includes ALL OF your emails, phone calls, and more – ALL communications traveling through land, sea and air in real time). The Congressman is wrong, plain and simple. And what Snowden revealed isn't news; the NSA itself admits to collecting and storing the worlds electronics/communications signals and data. What is news is that America is only now paying attention because Snowden found a dramatic way to say what he had to say (nothing new), which is all really only about "Snowden." Your (the media's) coverage of Snowden gives Snowden exactly what he wants – attention – and further obfuscates the facts and detracts from what matters – are our civil liberties protected? It helps when your focus is in the right place. I appreciate that we have a wonderful media section; just frustrating when you miss the point.

    June 16, 2013 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  3. Angelface

    Please, buddy – The info's already out. You can't try to change the facts now. NSA is, in fact, listening to us – always has and always will. Give me a break!

    June 16, 2013 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  4. Frank

    Yeah right. Ok. Uh..huh...That huge NSA data center they're building with yottabytes of storage is actually just for holding the White House photo library.

    Oh...and forgive my manners..."HI" NSA. Thanks for looking at my post as it contained some juicy key words. Now trace my IP and start monitoring me. lol...what a world we live in.

    June 16, 2013 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  5. earsoftheworld

    Yet another straw man presented to confuse the issue. No story I've read says the NSA is listening in on Americans' phone calls.
    What they do say is that the NSA has gathered metadata regarding each calls participants, length, and the location of each participant.
    And this info is readily searchable and has no expiration date.
    To me, that's overkill in the extreme.
    There's also evidence that email providers like Google and Microsoft gave the NSA access to their systems.
    I'd love to hear an explanation of how that squares with the inability of the NSA to search through emails.

    June 16, 2013 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  6. goprodious

    Then, I guess he would agree to the government keeping track of gun purchases, by whom, when, and where, but not making note of the type of gun purchased.

    June 16, 2013 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  7. ELRod

    No giant data collection center and 1000 new government jobs needed for this objective. Its a waste of tax payer money that further fuels the bloated agency called NSA.. The major telecommunications companies have the data already. They will keep it up to date and accessible in a far more efficient manner than would a government agency.

    June 16, 2013 11:46 am at 11:46 am |

    "If it did"

    Why say anything if you don't even know what you're talking about?

    June 16, 2013 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  9. Mr Ed

    Doesn't matter what is actually going on. The media AND public like to stroke themselves to sensational stories and will disregard what is really happening to climax.

    June 16, 2013 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  10. ELRod

    If access to the data for their investigations was enough then why are they collecting the data in giant scoops and sending it to NSA database servers? That implies that want to use the data for more than a current investigation. There's a reason you don't let methadone users run the methadone clinic.

    June 16, 2013 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  11. Goodtymes

    How many politicians do you know that tell the truth?

    June 16, 2013 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  12. Ruth D

    Do you really think we believe you?

    June 16, 2013 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  13. CNN sucks dick

    This does not belong in the "politics" section. Collecting data is still unreasonable seizure without probable cause or an issued warrant and is a mass violation of our 4th amendment rights!

    June 16, 2013 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  14. jpmichigan

    Trust the NSA, please. What happen with the Boston bombers? Did the NSA turn off their earphones? Even with the RUSSIANs, yes the Russians telling them the Boston bomber had terrorist connections, they still passed him by. So sorry people had to die first for the NSA to believe.

    June 16, 2013 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  15. Ric

    I'm sorry, despite the name of the Rep. from Michigan being Mr. Rogers, I have no faith in the statement from another gov't official that they are not listening to and/or recording our phone conversations. Why would the gov't stop lying now? If they are not listening now, they will be when they go back to the recordings. We don't know the half of it. All of us are figuritively(sp?) too fat and enamored with the excess in our lives. As much as we complain about things, we are more concerned about losing the things we do have.
    Unfortunately, this seems to mean the loss of some of our cherished freedoms....we will always have the fear of being watched or listened to in the back of our minds as we go about our lives, meet with friends, talk on the phone, email a family member. Amazing to me we are more afraid of losing our i-thingy than our privacy and freedoms. This is not the country it was when it was created because we are no longer of the same ilk of those that came here to create it. Please do not rag on me for my comments thinking that I am excluding myself from the the ills of American society. Though I have done much to protect the integrity and freedoms of this country from a non-militaristic, non-violent lifestyle, I too have much to do.

    June 16, 2013 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  16. JFS3

    Here's the truth: They might be telling the truth, but you will never know. Part of the job is lying like a sociopath.

    June 16, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  17. mark

    I could try to counter every idiocy and incorrect assertion in these comments. If people would just stop and think about the impossibility of what they are saying it would help, but I'll just leave it at this: good luck.

    June 16, 2013 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  18. allenwoll

    HOW can ANY reasonable person BROADCAST his business in the clear into the the ether and then retain any notion that that business remains private from WHOMEVER wants to take a listen / peek ! ! !
    These agitated folk need to better inform themselves of the characteristics of the communication tools which they use.
    If your communication is ACTUALLY to be held private, use an "electronic envelope" (encryption), similar in function to the paper one you use for your First Class postal communications - but more secure.
    THEN give all this political gibberish a rest.

    June 16, 2013 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  19. Leaky Brain

    Paleeeeeeeeeeeeeze! You can't start making things up now. You might be able to fool the feeble-minded Congressmen and Senators, but the rest of us have heard this before and never did believe you. We know you're lying because your lips are moving!

    June 16, 2013 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  20. Thomas

    Thank You GW Bush !

    June 16, 2013 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  21. JohnRJohnson

    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. We're talking about hundreds of millions of conversations EVERY SINGLE DAY. Exactly WHO is going to listen to all that, much less analyze every word? Only the most paranoid, misinformed, and naive people would belief that the government is carrying out that kind of surveillance. They read books which are totally speculative about government capabilities and activities, then apply those science fictions to reality. It's ridiculous. This entire uproar is just another politically motivated attack on this administration. Cynical, ugly partisan politics at its worst.

    June 16, 2013 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  22. Sailor

    Of course they are listening.

    June 16, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  23. FloydZepp

    Rogers – another traitor to American Principles.

    June 16, 2013 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  24. rebiii

    A point that is missed in discussion of the N.S.A., C.I.A., and these government officials involved with security is that they are professional liars. They are paid to disguise who they are, what they are doing, or both. They probably don't think of it as "lieing", but as a "tactic", "skill", "obligation", or "necessity".

    Where does the lieing stop in their private lives? If you spend all day lieing about what you do, when you come home at night and your spouse asks you if you remembered to go to the drugstore for toothpaste, do you tell the truth and say, "No," or do you lie and say that you remembered, but the drugstore was out of toothpaste? At some point lieing becomes habitual with these people, and they would probably be shocked, surprised, and skeptical to learn that ordinary people like you and I do not lie as a matter of course in our daily lives.

    Business as usual.

    June 16, 2013 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  25. ST

    Folks, can we all try to think this way: you can not have freedom of speech, if you are not protected first and given a chance to do so, and feel secured that your voice can come out and be listened to. Freedom of speech can't precede security. Security always comes first, whether you like it or not!

    June 16, 2013 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
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