June 16th, 2013
10:02 AM ET
9 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. Dave

    If they aren't "listening" then what is that massive new processing/data center for? Or maybe by listening he means "using our ears"... (it depends what the meaning of is is)

    June 16, 2013 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  2. Tony

    So, what prevents the government from using this big data collection against Americans? And what if some foreign source gets hold of it? Don't be naive. Terrorism may be the priority today, but remember Priorities Change! Capturing the actions and locations of individuals – through phone records, internet searches, emails, social media postings – enables the ability to virtually turn back time to see where an individual was and what they were doing and thinking. It's Big Brother society! As Benjamin Franklin once wrote, "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

    June 16, 2013 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  3. JJ

    Try to convince all the mediocre dimwits in this country of that, especially the repukes who think they're going to use this as a political tool. Don't bother trying to convince the morons, just do what is right to keep the country safe.

    June 16, 2013 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  4. Jonus Grumby

    And the IRS isn't targeting groups because of their political beliefs either.

    June 16, 2013 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  5. Rocketmanpete

    Did the FBI ask for and receive a Federal warrant to read General Peterus's private email regarding his affair?

    June 16, 2013 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  6. Ken

    The NSA may not be listening to the calls technically, but I bet donuts to dollars they have systems that scan the audio data they collect and compile searchable databases on that. Then they can pull the audio if need be. So they can say they are not listening to all calls but still collect far more specific data than listening can ever achieve on it's own.

    June 16, 2013 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  7. Trevor Bryant of Flagstaff, AZ

    hey have admitted to willfully violating the 4th Amendment. The penalty for willfully violating others constitutionally protected rights should be death by firing squad. If it isn't, then the government stooges will continue to do it. If they knew they were violating the 4th amendment, that would be like violating the 5th, or the 2nd, or the 1st... all the amendments are weighted equally. They knew they had no right to do it, and they did it anyway. It wasn't an "if"... they knew they did not have a warrant to do it. Kill them. They cannot be allowed to simply say "oopsy!" or it will continue. Fines don't mean anything to them, they won't have to pay them. I will settle for ALL of their liberties being revoked.

    June 16, 2013 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  8. nik green

    The NSA doesn't have the manpower to "listen in" to everyone's phone calls etc. in real time. But they are storing all this data for future collation and cross-reference. The US intelligence/security community is by and large, un-policed, unaccountable and answerable to nobody, has a multi-decade track record of abusing their public trust and acting against the interests of the American people, for the benefit of third parties and private corporations, even foreign organizations. It follows that in their rampant, serial paranoia, their obsession of recording everyone's lives – using that old canard of "fighting terrorism" (as did Hitler in the 1930s), they will abuse that data.

    June 16, 2013 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  9. well

    NSA Letter to Congress Leaves Questions Unanswered

    – Jacob Chamberlain, Common Dreams, June 16, 2013

    when do the massas answer to their servants?????

    June 16, 2013 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  10. mike

    If the Gov is doing nothing wrong or illegal, then they have nothing to hide about what they are doing. I do not believe they have stopped terrorist threats. Why are we just hearing these STORIES now. Grimm fairy tales are more believable than what we are being told. Cant wait for more information to come out.

    June 16, 2013 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  11. bushcricket

    No the NSA can't listen in directly, but when they contract out they can listen in through the contractor as they are not technically listening directly.

    June 16, 2013 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  12. InMyHappyPlace

    The NSA is collecting information about our private phone communications. Regardless of listening or not. The difference here is they are using the fact that laws have not kept up with technology. IN good faith the NSA should not collect this information until it is determined if it abides by our Constitution and following legislation and case law. The government has taken the attitude that if nobody opposes them they can do what they want and see if anyone contests it in court. In the mean time – tough luck.

    June 16, 2013 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  13. TroubleJunkie

    All official government statements are actually marketing promotions with agendas divorced from any obligation to the truth.

    June 16, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  14. r00t4rd3d

    I dont believe anyone who denies anything about this, from the white house on down. They are all lying.

    June 16, 2013 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  15. wilf

    funny I bought some stuff from Cabala's with my bank debt card. Go home fire up my laptop and the banner add above the web page is a cabala's add. This only took 20 minutes. I'm sure if you read all that fine print in all the bank affairs and internet sites you would find you have given all your privacy rights away. That should be more scary to you.
    If you happen to pay for a health service on your bank or credit card insurance companies can buy that info and use it against you if they want

    June 16, 2013 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  16. Rabidmob

    I don't think we can trust them to tell us the truth, Congress or the NSA.

    June 16, 2013 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  17. westvillageblog

    Rogers is at least being willfully naive to claim that there is an official path to take as a whistleblower.

    June 16, 2013 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  18. Rick C.

    The statement, 'we are not listening', may be factually correct. What they didn't say is EVERY phone call, text message, email, etc. has been archived for future use. So yes, they are 'not listening' present tense.

    June 16, 2013 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  19. Darlene Buckingham

    Reading emails is not the only problem here. NSA could be making up things and make us believe anything they want. Control is the goal and the NSA has billions of taxpayers dollars to make sure we are controlled and pay for it.

    June 16, 2013 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  20. Juju

    As Anonymous pointed out, it is the "Foreign" -ISC, not "Federal" as it states in the article as of right now. I sent an email to CNN to notify them of the error.

    How should we feel knowing the "Foreign" -ISC is approving the mining of data of Americans living within our borders? If it's not illegal for violating the 4th amendment, it's very misleading. At least create a new secret court called the Homeland Data Mining Court or something.

    For that matter, how does any perfectly innocent person around the world feel about their data being mined by our government? I'm confident 99.9999% of the world's population poses no threat to us, as long as we respect their basic human rights as much as our own. I have to be perfectly honest: if the Chinese or Russians had these same snooping capabilities, and were perfectly willing to strike down unfriendlies with death from above, I wouldn't be a happy camper.

    June 16, 2013 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  21. Rick C.

    @ anonymous

    Scan for key words? Yes. It's called a Fourier Transform. Shovel in as much junk in (data) as you've got, the transform filters it,out comes what you've been looking for.

    June 16, 2013 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  22. wildbill

    Come on people,someone contact me so we can start this revolution. NOW!!!

    June 16, 2013 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  23. Question

    Liar!!!!!! Technically how could they distinguish foreigners and Americans? Furthermore does it mean that they could eavesdrop the exotic people in U.S. at their will? They are crude and liars, what they are saying are nothing but stupid EXCUSE!

    June 16, 2013 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  24. us_1776

    The masters of deception, lying and spying tell you that they're not spying on you.

    Good one.


    June 16, 2013 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  25. dlws

    The government is not monitoring your activities. It is just following you when you leave your house, as well as keeping track of who you meet with, when, and for how long. It's just metadata. Right. Eyes rolling.

    The citizens of this nation need to monitor every activity of the government to ensure the CONservatives don't push use further into a fascist regime. Using kangaroo courts issuing search warrants is the type of activity dictators use.

    Vote out every member of Congress and find a person who will respect the Constitution to serve the people
    in the White House in 2016.

    June 16, 2013 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
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