WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush said Thursday the government is "not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans" with a reported program to create a massive database of U.S. phone calls.
"Our efforts are focused on links to al Qaeda and their known affiliates," Bush said. "The privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities."
Bush's comments came after USA Today reported Thursday that three telecommunication firms provided the National Security Agency with domestic telephone call records from millions of Americans beginning shortly after the attacks on September 11, 2001. (Read what the reporter who broke the story says)
Bush did not specifically mention the newspaper's report. (Transcript of Bush's statement)
In response to the USA Today article, NSA spokesman Don Weber issued a statement saying, "Given the nature of the work we do, it would be irresponsible to comment on actual or alleged operational issues; therefore, we have no information to provide.
"However, it is important to note that NSA takes its legal responsibilities seriously and operates within the law." (Watch Bush on "what the government is doing" -- 2:24)
The report comes at an awkward time for CIA director nominee Gen. Michael Hayden, whom President Bush named this week to replace Porter Goss as head of the spy agency. Hayden, whose confirmation hearings are to begin next Thursday, headed the NSA from March 1999 to April 2005. Hayden on Thursday met with Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican whip, about his nomination.
Afterward, Hayden refused to comment about the report when meeting with reporters but said, "Everything that NSA does is lawful and very carefully done, and the appropriate members of the Congress -- both House and Senate -- are briefed on all NSA activities."
The report comes months after the Bush administration came under criticism on Capitol Hill for ordering an NSA surveillance program, that allowed communication to be monitored between people in the United States and terrorism suspects overseas without a court order.
Hayden headed the NSA when the wiretapping program was launched in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks.
Members of Congress expressed concern Thursday about the report. (Watch angry senator say, "Shame on us" -- 3:56)
"It's our government, government of every single American -- Republican, Democrat or independent," said Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. "... Those entrusted with great power have a duty to answer to Americans what they are doing."
Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, said he would call on representatives from the companies named in the USA Today story; AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth; to testify.
However, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, told reporters he "strongly" agrees that the program is necessary, and said, "We'll discuss whether hearings are necessary."
In the House, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, asked Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, for hearings into the program during a Thursday afternoon meeting.
Pelosi said the hearings should be conducted by the House Intelligence Committee because "those people have the clearance."
Pelosi declined to say how Hastert responded to her request.
Conservatives defend program
During a morning session, Republican members of the committee defended the legality and necessity of such a database.
The USA Today report said the program did not involve the NSA "listening to or recording conversations," a point that Sen. Jeff Sessions touched on.
"No recordings and no conversations were intercepted here, so there was no wiretapping here," the Alabama Republican said.
Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona also faulted the revelation of the program as harmful to national security.
"This is nuts," Kyl said. "We are in a war and we've go to collect intelligence on the enemy, and you can't tell the enemy in advance how you are going to do it. And discussing all of this in public leads to that."
Hayden nomination to proceed
Despite the controversy, the White House intends to go "full steam ahead" with Hayden's nomination, Reuters reported.
"I think General Hayden has had a really good start to his confirmation process. He's met with several members, the feedback is positive and we're full steam ahead on his nomination," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters while traveling with President Bush to Mississippi.
Facing Senate confirmation hearings before the Senate Intelligence Committee on May 18, Hayden's meeting today with Republican Sens. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska were canceled.
The meeting with Santorum has been tentatively rescheduled for Tuesday afternoon, said Santorum aide Robert Traynham. "But the White House called it very tentative," Traynham said.
The Justice Department has been denied security clearances for access to information, which prompted it to drop an investigation into the program. (Full story)
The Democrats' No. 2 member of the Senate, Sen. Richard Durbin, called the development "evidence of a cover-up."
"The fact ... that the Department of Justice has abandoned their own investigation of this administration's wrongdoing because there's been a refusal to give investigators security clearances is clear evidence of a cover-up within the administration."
Well, just yesterday someone here in these forums said that US is not recording phone calls and its impossible.
And it was just as impossible as the torture and illegal arrests because of this " war on terror ", but it become true just like this phone call recording stuff..
What is going to be next "impossible" thing what will come up ?
Edited by Sanjuro, 11 May 2006 - 09:00 PM.