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. Steven Brooks

    There sure are a lot of paranoid dummies in our country.

    June 16, 2013 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  2. Paul

    Well gee I guess I should believe you, I mean with MS saying we have nothing to worry about as another system blue screens or locks up.... Yup keep trying to get us to believe and if we hear it long enough will we start to believe it or just get to the "I'm not listening anymore " point and move on doing dishonest business deals like the billions going to a group of companies both domestic and foreign all they while they are showing Profits in the billions?

    June 16, 2013 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  3. Daniel Montes

    TO ALL US CITIZENS: Contact your US representatives and demand that the Patriot Act be repealed. If not, vote against them in the next election.

    June 16, 2013 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  4. Anonymous

    NSA mantra: Say Nothing. Deny Everything. Make counter Accusations. You expect the citezens of this country to believe a politician named Mike Rogers that the government is not spying on its citizens. FEDERAL GOVERNMENT = COMPULSIVE LIARS!

    June 16, 2013 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |

    NOT listening LIVE, but it is there recording on data based storage .

    June 16, 2013 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  6. KlintzCNN

    Can someone please explain the logic and capability:

    – There are over 313 million people in the US.
    – Population is 25% 17-and-under, or just over 76 million kids.
    – Population is 13% 65-and-older, or around 40 million seniors.
    – Extremely conservative estimate is that 200 million people have telephones and email.
    – Again, extremely conservative, each person makes 1 phone call or email each day, so 200 million calls/emails per day.
    – There are about 4.5 million federal employees across the whole federal government, not just NSA.

    With 200 million phone calls per day, that means each and every single federal employee (4.5 million people)–from the grounds keepers to the heads of the US DOT/Parks & Recs/NASA/EPA/FBI/etcetera–must monitor no less than 40 calls each just to stay on top of the communications in the US. (As we know, there are Billions with a capital letter 'B' of emails and phone calls made each day–not a measly 200 million.)

    Please explain the logic of the US Government wanting (if actually capable of) monitoring each person in the US, from what they ate for breakfast to knowing who has a crush on that cute guy in algebra class that high school girls just go gaga over, and so on and so on.

    Speech recognition software is still in its infancy. (Anyone who's tried telling the phone center an answer and the system just can't get it right no matter what, knows how reliable that is.) Siri is an improvement, but even the Apple Overlords get it wrong. So it would take a human to understand and make sense of it all. And then we have New England accents, Bayou accents, Californication accents, and so on.

    Are we to understand that the US Federal Government outsources intelligence gathering of its own people to listen to each and every single call in America?

    Please, someone explain the logic and the capability...

    June 16, 2013 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  7. RDH

    Of coarse they aren't, our intelligence agencys would never lie to us. Silly conspiracy theorists, everyone knows that the bay of pigs, kennedys assaination, the vietnam war, iran contra, and wmds in iraq are all honest mistakes.

    June 16, 2013 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  8. maximusvad

    Those filled with fear think we have 1 million people listening into 300 million Americans....because that's what it would take to accomplish something like that.

    June 16, 2013 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  9. TiSentinel65

    NSA mantra: Say Nothing. Deny Everything. Make Counter Accusations. A politician named Mike Rogers says the NSA is not spying on its citezenry. FEDERAL GOVERNMENT = COMPULSIVE LIARS. The government has zero credibility. Lying is part of Inteligence operations to confuse the populace. Mike Rogers, You are a liar with the rest of our government officials.

    June 16, 2013 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  10. David , CA

    How do you have trust in a government when they are using the IRS and the Attorney General's office to go after political enemies? As dirty as the last election was I have a hard time believing that either party would refrain from using all this information that has been gathered to try and find dirt on their opponent. And then their is always the rogue employee who want to embarrass or go after their ex or an old boss etc. (think Snowden). And if you are still not convinced read a history book about Nazi Germany, Russia, China, and just about any Dictatorship there is or ever has been. This needs to be stopped NOW

    June 16, 2013 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  11. James

    What we have hear is a failure to communicate.

    The NSA sees a number caling another number for 30 seconds at 1300 every day. It sees that other number call 4 other numbers shortly their after.

    They identify the calling pattern from this meta data. They look at various information to see if these patterns match up with HUMINT and chatter. They get a warrant for the information and to listen in on future conversations.

    Nothing wrong with that. What is wrong is we should know that. Here is why that knowledge will not effect how terrorists run operations. If they substitute courriers for technology then they have to wait for courriers and add more people. Also those people would have to fly. More tracking. So that this operation is out in the open is good it shows what they do without exactly how they do it. Encryption and all that stuff is protected still. But that the NSA can analyze patterns in the phone data is cool. Its lets Americans and the world know they are capable but it needs to be open about some aspects of its operations. Blind trust of the government is no longer permissible. We have seen the government kill innocent people after all the government is made up of people and equally imperfect.

    So this information that is was leaked did not compromise anything. However it enlightened the American public on how it works. We do overclassify a bit and that is because lawyers screw up a lot.

    Lawyers ALWAYS advise play it safe and don't tell anyone anything. The NSA went to its team of legal people and in their legal opinion which is limited to courtroom situations. Did what they said. The PR side of the house should have been more forceful. Saying hey look we can track patterns in phone calls without accessing personal data but with this we can identify potential threats and get a warrant for more information. If they didthat we would not be here.

    Time to get lawyers out of government.

    June 16, 2013 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  12. sparky

    “If it did, it is illegal. It is breaking the law,” Rogers said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

    Gee, I should have realized that the government never does anything *illegal*. I ought to believe, since a government official told me.

    June 16, 2013 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  13. eugene

    Mr. Rogers,

    It is easy and fund to lie to people. But do you believe in what you are saying when you go to sleep? I know it i hard to lie to yourself as well.

    June 16, 2013 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  14. eugene

    Edward Snowden did not fly to China. He flew to Hong Kong. Mr. Rogers, geography was not your best friend at school?

    June 16, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  15. joilpem

    There is a difference between needing a courts approval to officially listen to phone calls...and not doing it.

    June 16, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  16. xsgovt

    And they said they don't spy on Americans right before whistle blower Snowden came forward.

    June 16, 2013 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  17. Grant

    Right.. anything to discredit a whistleblower..and, no one ever said that an actual human being was listening in to EVERY phone call or, reading EVERY single email you doof, BUT, they are copied and stored for future "reference" which, is still the same damn thing as "listening in" or "reading".

    Politicians are known liars and Rogers is no exception.

    June 16, 2013 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  18. HenryMiller

    Maybe not, but their computers are.

    June 16, 2013 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  19. Ban KKiller

    Our government is corrupted by the banking cartel. Proven when Eric Holder admits banks are too big to jail or even meaningfully prosecuted. What if YOU laundered money for the drug cartels? Of course you would go to jail. Not so for the banks. There is NO LAW AND ORDER. Only the ruling class has redress and access to the courts and justice. YOU get plenty of "law" though!

    June 16, 2013 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  20. Yeah, okay

    Notice the slippery language: they're not "listening in" on calls in real time. But apparently calls are recorded and can be accessed later on an as-needed basis. That's even worse.

    June 16, 2013 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  21. wyrm1

    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.

    That would be nice. I'd like to know what the government claims they can do. Of course there is misinformation about the program, because you refuse to tell us what it is allowed to do.

    June 16, 2013 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  22. Aaron

    The fog has lifted. We – all of us – can now see clearly the path that we have been following. We must now decide: Do we continue down this path, or do we stop, turn around, and return to the path of a government by the people, and for the people?

    June 16, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  23. William

    How many times do these folks have to lie to your faces. Does anyone really believe ANYTHING they are saying anymore. Please. Enough already. We need more whistleblowers NOT less to expose hypocritical pathological liars. I'm tired of apologists accepting what these repeated liars fibbers nontruthtellers have to say. Sickening.

    June 16, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  24. allenwoll

    Anonymous : Suggestion - ENCRYPT, then STIFLE ! ! !

    June 16, 2013 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  25. rrmon

    Not listening, but recording for future reference and though data gain is illegal and cannot be held accountable in a court of law, it is still threatning.

    June 16, 2013 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
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