May 11, 2006

NSA kept domestic calls data: report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The agency in charge of a domestic
spying program has been secretly collecting phone call records
of tens of millions of Americans, including calls made within
the United States, USA Today reported on Thursday.

It said the National Security Agency has been building up
the database using records provided by three major phone
companies -- AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and
BellSouth Corp. -- but that the program "does not involve the
NSA listening to or recording conversations."

USA Today said its sources for the story were "people with
direct knowledge of the arrangement," but it did not give their
names or describe their affiliation.

The existence of an NSA eavesdropping program launched
after the September 11 attacks was revealed in December.

Defending the controversial program, President Bush and his
administration officials have said it aims to uncover links
between international terrorists and their domestic
collaborators and only targets communications between a person
inside the United States and a person overseas.

But USA Today said that calls originating and terminating
within the United States have not escaped the NSA's attention.

"It's the largest database ever assembled in the world,"
the paper quoted one source as saying. The agency's goal is "to
create a database of every call ever made" within U.S. borders,
it said the source added.

The NSA has "access to records of billions of domestic
calls," USA Today said. Although customers' names and addresses
are not being handed over, "the phone numbers the NSA collects
can easily be cross-checked with other databases to obtain that
information," it said.

Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, who headed the NSA from 1999
to 2005 and was nominated by Bush on Monday as director of the
CIA, would have overseen the call-tracking program, the paper

Hayden, as well as NSA and White House officials, declined
to discuss the program, USA Today said.

Among major U.S. telecommunications companies, only Qwest
Communications International Inc. has refused to help the NSA
program, the paper said.

Qwest, with 14 million customers in the Western United
States, was "uneasy about the legal implications of handing
over customer information to the government without warrants,"
USA Today said.

It said the three companies cooperating with the NSA
"provide local and wireless phone service to more than 200
million customers."