Lawmakers on House and Senate intelligence committees say that while the National Security Agency has amassed a huge database of Americans' calling records, cooperation with the NSA by telephone companies was not as widespread as USA Today initially reported, the newspaper said Friday.
USA Today reported May 11 that, according to its sources, AT&T, BellSouth and Verizon all agreed to provide the agency with domestic call records. The newspaper said Friday that Verizon and BellSouth deny they contracted to provide the NSA with records of their customers' phone calls. AT&T has neither confirmed nor denied the newspaper's report.
Some lawmakers briefed on the program said NSA has a database of domestic calls that includes numbers called and the length of conversations, but not what was said. Five members of the intelligence committees said they'd been told by intelligence officials that AT&T, the nation's largest telecommunications company, did cooperate in providing NSA with call records.
Five lawmakers on the intelligence committees said they'd been told that BellSouth did not turn over call records, and three lawmakers said they'd been informed that Verizon did not turn over call records to the NSA.
Lawmakers who support the Bush administration's domestic spying program see the apparent gaps in the database as a problem.
"It's difficult to say you're covering all terrorist activity in the United States if you don't have all the (phone) numbers," Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., told USA Today. "It probably would be better to have records of every telephone company."
USA Today clarification
In an accompanying "note to our readers," USA Today vowed to "continue to report on the contents and scope of the database as part of its ongoing coverage of national security and domestic surveillance."
"This is an important story that holds up very well. At the heart of our report is the fact that the NSA is collecting phone call records of millions of Americans," said Steve Anderson, a spokesman for the newspaper. "There have been no denials that this database exists," he said. "Nineteen members of Congress who have been briefed following the May 11 article have confirmed the existence of the database."
"What we address in the editors' note deals with the fact that we originally reported that the telephone companies were working under contract with the NSA," Anderson added. "We've concluded that we cannot establish that BellSouth or Verizon entered into a contract with the NSA to provide the bulk calling records."