NSA Tries”“but Fails”“to Collect Data on Most Calls

The agency reportedly collects records on less than 30 percent of calls.

A telephone and a toilet are shown in the holding cell area where arrestees are allowed their phone call at the Santa Barbara County Sheriff Substation May 10, 2005 in Orcutt, California.
National Journal
Brendan Sasso
Feb. 7, 2014, 7:52 a.m.

The Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency col­lects data on less than 30 per­cent of all U.S. phone calls, the The Wash­ing­ton Post re­por­ted Fri­day, cit­ing an­onym­ous of­fi­cials. The Wall Street Journ­al re­por­ted that the fig­ure may ac­tu­ally be be­low 20 per­cent.

The rev­el­a­tion con­tra­dicts the pop­u­lar per­cep­tion fol­low­ing the leaks by Ed­ward Snowden that the NSA is col­lect­ing data on every phone call in the United States. But it’s not for a lack of try­ing. Both news­pa­pers re­por­ted that the agency has struggled to keep up its data­base as more calls are made on cell­phones in­stead of land­lines.

In 2006, the NSA col­lec­ted nearly all re­cords, but the fig­ure fell be­low 30 per­cent by last sum­mer, ac­cord­ing to The Post. The NSA is pre­par­ing to seek court or­ders to force cel­lu­lar pro­viders to hand over more data, the news­pa­per re­por­ted.

The re­cords in­clude phone num­bers, call times, and call dur­a­tions — but not the ac­tu­al con­tents of con­ver­sa­tions.

At a hear­ing last Septem­ber, Demo­crat­ic Sen. Mark Ud­all of Col­or­ado pressed NSA Dir­ect­or Keith Al­ex­an­der on wheth­er the agency’s goal is to col­lect phone re­cords on all Amer­ic­ans.

“Yes, I be­lieve it is in the na­tion’s best in­terest to put all the phone re­cords in­to a lock­box that we could search when the na­tion needs to do it. Yes,” Al­ex­an­der said.

The news may un­der­cut some of the jus­ti­fic­a­tion for the pro­gram just as Con­gress and the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion con­siders plans to rein it. Al­ex­an­der and oth­er in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials have ar­gued that they need ac­cess to all phone re­cords to gain a com­plete pic­ture of pos­sible ter­ror­ist con­nec­tions.

“It’s bet­ter than zero,” NSA Deputy Dir­ect­or Rick Ledgett told The Post, without ac­know­ledging the scope of the data col­lec­tion. “If it’s zero, there’s no chance.”

The NSA and the Of­fice of the Dir­ect­or of Na­tion­al In­tel­li­gence did not re­spond to re­quests to com­ment by Na­tion­al Journ­al.

A re­port by the group that Pres­id­ent Obama tasked with re­view­ing NSA sur­veil­lance said in Decem­ber that the con­tro­ver­sial pro­gram “ac­quires a very large amount” of phone data every day but only a “small per­cent­age” of the total data held by the phone com­pan­ies.

Demo­crat­ic Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man Patrick Leahy and Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Jim Sensen­bren­ner are push­ing a bill to end the bulk col­lec­tion of phone re­cords. Obama has asked At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Eric Hold­er and in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials to de­vel­op a plan to give up con­trol of the data­base but main­tain the NSA’s ac­cess to the re­cords.

What We're Following See More »
STAFF PICKS
After Wikileaks Hack, DNC Staffers Stared Using ‘Snowden-Approved’ App
1 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

The Signal app is fast becoming the new favorite among those who are obsessed with the security and untraceabilty of their messaging. Just ask the Democratic National Committee. Or Edward Snowden. As Vanity Fair reports, before news ever broke that the DNC's servers had been hacked, word went out among the organization that the word "Trump" should never be used in their emails, lest it attract hackers' attention. Not long after, all Trump-related messages, especially disparaging ones, would need to be encrypted via the Snowden-approved Signal.

Source:
WARRING FACTIONS?
Freedom Caucus Members May Bolt the RSC
3 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

The Republican Study Committee may lose several members of the House Freedom Caucus next year, "potentially creating a split between two influential groups of House conservatives." The Freedom Caucus was founded at the inception of the current Congress by members who felt that the conservative RSC had gotten too cozy with leadership, "and its roughly 40 members have long clashed with the RSC over what tactics to use when pushing for conservative legislation." As many as 20 members may not join the RSC for the new Congress next year.

Source:
SOME THERAPIES ALREADY IN TRIALS
FDA Approves Emergency Zika Test
5 hours ago
THE LATEST

"The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday issued emergency authorization for a Zika diagnostics test from Swiss drugmaker Roche, skirting normal approval channels as the regulator moves to fight the disease's spread." Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that a new study in Nature identifies "about a dozen substances" that could "suppress the pathogen's replication." Some of them are already in clinical trials.

Source:
MONEY HAS BEEN PAID BACK
Medicare Advantage Plans Overcharged Government
6 hours ago
THE DETAILS

According to 37 newly released audits, "some private Medicare plans overcharged the government for the majority of elderly patients they treated." A number of Medicare Advantage plans overstated "the severity of medical conditions like diabetes and depression." The money has since been paid back, though some plans are appealing the federal audits.

Source:
DESPITE CONSERVATIVE OBJECTIONS
Omnibus Spending Bill Likely Getting a Lame-Duck Vote
6 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

"GOP leaders and House Democrats are already laying the groundwork for a short-term continuing resolution" on the budget this fall "that will set up a vote on a catch-all spending bill right before the holidays." As usual, however, the House Freedom Caucus may throw a wrench in Speaker Paul Ryan's gears. The conservative bloc doesn't appear willing to accept any CR that doesn't fund the government into 2017.

Source:
×