The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has traced and analyzed a larger volume of telephone and Internet communications flowing into and out of the United States as part of a domestic eavesdropping program than the Bush administration has acknowledged, The New York Times reported Saturday.
The volume of information harvested from telecommunication data and voice networks, without court-approved warrants, was collected tapping directly into some of the American telecommunication system's main arteries, the newspaper quoted current and former government as saying.
As part of the program, approved by President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks for domestic surveillance without warrants to hunt for evidence of terrorist activity, the NSA has gained cooperation of U.S. telecommunications companies to obtain backdoor access to streams of domestic and international communications, the officials said.
The government's collection and analysis of phone and Internet traffic have raised questions among some law enforcement and judicial officials familiar with the program. One issue of concern to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has reviewed some separate warrant applications growing out of the NSA's surveillance program, is whether the court has legal authority over calls outside the United States that happen to pass through the U.S.-based telephonic "switches," according to the report.
Since the disclosure last week of the NSA's secret domestic surveillance program, Bush and his senior aides have stressed that his executive order allowing eavesdropping without warrants was limited to the monitoring of international phone and e-mail communications involving people with known links to al Qaeda.
What has not been publicly acknowledged is that NSA technicians, besides actually eavesdropping on specific conversations, have combed through large volumes of phone and Internet traffic in search of patterns that might point to terrorism suspects, the report said.