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 »
According to the most recent Gallup poll, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are equally disliked. The poll, conducted between July 18 and July 25, shows both major party candidates for president are viewed favorably by 37 percent of respondents and unfavorably by 58 percent of respondents. This poll is bad news for Clinton, who has received better favorable and unfavorable ratings in nearly every poll over the last year.
The same day that Donald Trump encouraged Russia to hack the State Department and "find the 30,000 emails that are missing," the GOP nominee for vice president took a more serious approach. "If it is Russia and they are interfering in our elections, I can assure you both parties and the United States government will ensure there are serious consequences," Pence said in a statement. Trump's comments at a press conference this morning were rebuked by individuals across the political spectrum, while some on Trump's team, including prominent surrogate Newt Gingrich, have called his comments a "joke."
The Federal Open Market Committee today voted to leave interest rates alone, but "upgraded its assessment of the economy’s recent performance and said near-term risks to the outlook have diminished, effectively leaving the door open to raise rates later this year, possibly as early as September."
"Spurred by VP pick Mike Pence, a former congressman with close ties to many lawmakers, the Trump campaign in recent weeks has stepped up its courtship of wary Capitol Hill Republicans. And the efforts appear to be bearing fruit." Central to the charm offensive: invitations to more than a dozen "Senate and House members into his family’s private box for some power-schmoozing with him and his kids" during the Republican National Convention.
Donald Trump essentially encouraged more Russian espionage against Democrats in a press conference this morning. "Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” he said. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” That prompted Brendan Buck, spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan to say: “Russia is a global menace led by a devious thug. Putin should stay out of this election.”