Nightly News   |  July 31, 2013

NSA’s ‘hop analysis’ tracks calls linked to other calls

The search for one terror suspect could link to millions of innocent Americans’ phone records. NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell reports.

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>>> we're learning more, a good deal more about the government's massive surveillance program that involves phone calls and e-mails. today, in public, in congress, we learn more about what's been going on in private for years. nbc's kelly o'donnell covering things on capitol hill for us tonight. kelly , good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, brian. tonight the guardian published more classified information, claiming the nsa can read content of e-mail and online chats without court approval. the program known as x keystone is only used against foreign terror suspects and the they're doing their own disclosure. today, a brief new look inside the secrets of the nsa. the director of national intelligence released several documents to show fisa court oversight of the spy program that sweeps up americans' phone record data. and the government acknowledged using a wider net than previously known in what is called hop analysis. the nsa tracks a call made by a terror suspect, but can then track all the records linked to anyone the first suspect calls. and on to anyone each of those callers contact, and so on. senator dick durbin was clearly uneasy.

>> when you look at the reach of this program, and it envelops a substantial number of americans.

>> reporter: frustration today between senators and the intelligence community , starting with how nsa leaker edward snowden was ever granted access to the country's most guarded spy programs. senator patrick leahy dismayed that no heads have rolled at the nsa.

>> for a 29-year-old school dropout to come in and take out massive, massive amounts of data, it is obvious that there weren't adequate controls. has anybody been fired?

>> no, sir, not yet.

>> has anybody been admonished?

>> sir, those investigations are under way.

>> reporter: many senators believe the programs are necessary for national security , and say more is needed to ensure they're conducted legally.

>> i don't want the public to take our word for it. i think there is a balance here.

>> reporter: the pushback goes beyond congress. today, the conference in las vegas , a heckler shouted at nsa director general alexander.

>> if you disagree with what we're doing, then you should help twice as much.

>> read the constitution!

>> i have. you should too.

>> reporter: and tomorrow at least a half dozen members of congress are headed to the white house , invited by the president to talk about the issues as congress considers adjustments to these programs, but would keep them in operation. brian?

>> kelly o'donnell on the hill for us tonight. kelly , thanks.