The Senate Select Intelligence Committee is looking into allegations from two U.S. military linguists that the government routinely listened in on phone calls of American military and humanitarian aid workers serving overseas.
"These are extremely disturbing allegations," said Committee Chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., in a statement issued Thursday. "We have requested all relevant information from the Bush administration. Any time there is an allegation regarding abuse of the privacy and civil liberties of Americans it is a very serious matter."
ABC News first reported the charges Thursday, citing one current and one former military linguist by name. They are contained in the book "The Shadow Factory," to be published next week.
The linguists said National Security Agency interceptors routinely monitored and recorded the private calls of U.S. military personnel, Red Cross and other humanitarian workers; personal discussions that had entertainment value — pillow talk or phone sex —were shared among intercept operators, they said.
NSA: No laws broken
National Security Agency spokesman Patrick Bomgardner said some of the allegations have already been investigated by the agency and found to be unsubstantiated.
"Others are in the investigation process," he said, declining to provide further detail.
The recently adopted eavesdropping law requires the government to get court permission to listen in on American phone and computer communications anywhere in the world. However, the previous version of the law only required attorney general approval. If an American's communications are incidentally listened to in the course of eavesdropping on another target, the contents of the American's comments call and the identity of the person are supposed to be protected, a process known as "minimization."
"At NSA, the law was followed assiduously," said Mark Mansfield, spokesman for CIA Director Mike Hayden, who headed the NSA during the period in question. "The notion that Gen. Hayden sanctioned or tolerated illegalities of any sort is ridiculous on its face."