USA Today discloses flaws in call surveillance article
2 phone companies' alleged dealings with NSA are not verified
WASHINGTON -- USA Today acknowledged in a ``note to our readers" yesterday that it could not establish that
But spokesman Steve Anderson said ``this is an important story that holds up well. At the heart of our report is the fact that NSA is collecting phone call records of millions of Americans."
``What we address in the editors' note," he said, ``deals with the fact that we originally reported that the telephone companies were working under contract with the NSA. We've concluded that we cannot establish that BellSouth or Verizon entered into a contract with the NSA to provide the bulk calling records."
In an accompanying story, the newspaper reported yesterday that lawmakers on the House and Senate intelligence committees have said that while the NSA has amassed a huge database of calling records, the cooperation with the NSA by telephone companies was not as extensive USA Today initially reported May 11.
At that time, USA Today reported that, according to its sources, AT&T, BellSouth, and Verizon all agreed to provide the agency with domestic call records.
The newspaper said yesterday that Verizon and BellSouth deny they contracted to provide the NSA with records of their customers' phone calls. AT&T has neither confirmed nor denied the newspaper's report.
Some lawmakers briefed on the program said the NSA has a database of domestic calls that includes the phone numbers called and the length of the conversations, but not what was said.
Five members of the intelligence committees said they'd been told by intelligence officials that AT&T, the nation's largest telecommunications company, did cooperate in providing NSA with call records.
Five lawmakers on the intelligence committees said they'd been told that BellSouth did not turn over call records, and three lawmakers said they'd been informed that Verizon did not give records to the NSA.
Lawmakers who support the Bush administration's domestic spying program see the apparent gaps in the database as a problem.
``It's difficult to say you're covering all terrorist activity in the United States if you don't have all the [phone] numbers," Senator Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican, told USA Today.
``It probably would be better to have records of every telephone company."
In its note to readers, USA Today vowed to ``continue to report on the contents and scope of the database as part of its ongoing coverage of national security and domestic surveillance."
Said Anderson: ``There have been no denials that this database exists. Nineteen members of Congress who have been briefed following the May 11 article have confirmed the existence of the database."