The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released an unusual statement late Sunday evening pushing back on a challenged report that claimed the National Security Agency had admitted it could freely listen to phone calls without warrants.
Here’s the full statement from the ODNI:
“The statement that a single analyst can eavesdrop on domestic communications without proper legal authorization is incorrect and was not briefed to Congress. Members have been briefed on the implementation of Section 702, that it targets foreigners located overseas for a valid foreign intelligence purpose, and that it cannot be used to target Americans anywhere in the world.”
It was directly responding to a report published on CNET late Saturday that has come under intense scrutiny over the past 24 hours.
The CNET report claimed that Rep. Jerry Nadler (R-N.Y.) said he was told in a closed-door hearing that the NSA admitted that “the Justice Department has secretly interpreted federal surveillance law to permit thousands of low-ranking analysts to eavesdrop on phone calls.”
In the briefing, Nadler said he was told by FBI director Robert Mueller “precisely that you could get the specific information from that telephone.” CNET interpreted that to mean phone calls. But, as Charles Johnson and others have pointed out, much of their conversation revolved around “metadata,” which was at the heart of the original controversy and didn’t amount to a bombshell.
Nadler’s office released a statement Sunday morning that directly contradicted CNET’s interpretation of the exchange.
“I am pleased that the administration has reiterated that, as I have always believed, the NSA cannot listen to the content of Americans’ phone calls without a specific warrant,” Nadler said.
CNET, in turn, altered its story and headline. Its headline changed from, “NSA Admits Listening to U.S. Phone Calls Without Warrants,” to “NSA Spying Flap Extends To Contents Of U.S. Phone Calls.”
It also added this update at the bottom of its story:
“Updated 6/16 at 11:15 a.m. PT: The original headline when the story was published on Saturday was “NSA admits listening to U.S. phone calls without warrants,” which was changed to “NSA spying flap extends to contents of U.S. phone calls,” to better match the story. The first paragraph was changed to add attribution to Rep. Nadler. Also added was an additional statement that the congressman’s aide sent this morning, an excerpt from a Washington Post story on NSA phone call content surveillance that appeared Saturday, and remarks that Rep. Rogers made on CNN this morning.]”
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