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.
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Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.
Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”
Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."
In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-expected primary battle behind her, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) is no longer going on the air in upcoming primary states. “Team Clinton hasn’t spent a single cent in … California, Indiana, Kentucky, Oregon and West Virginia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “campaign has spent a little more than $1 million in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone backer in the Senate, said the candidate should end his presidential campaign if he’s losing to Hillary Clinton after the primary season concludes in June, breaking sharply with the candidate who is vowing to take his insurgent bid to the party convention in Philadelphia.”
The team behind the bestselling "Clinton Cash"—author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon—is turning the book into a movie that will have its U.S. premiere just before the Democratic National Convention this summer. The film will get its global debut "next month in Cannes, France, during the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie is not a part of the festival, but will be shown at a screening arranged for distributors)." Bloomberg has a trailer up, pointing out that it's "less Ken Burns than Jerry Bruckheimer, featuring blood-drenched money, radical madrassas, and ominous footage of the Clintons."