Congress Knew All About the NSA’s Phone Record Program Back in 2009


The Obama administration has now released the documents that it said it would regarding the NSA’s phone record collection program. You can read them here. For the most part, they don’t tell us anything we didn’t already know, but a DOJ letter in 2009 does shed some light on how much Congress knew about this program. A relevant excerpt is below. This letter was made available to all members of Congress (under the usual strict secrecy rules), and it makes clear that (a) NSA collects “substantially all” of the domestic phone records of U.S. phone companies, (b) ditto for emails, and (c) they use these records to perform contact chaining.

Whatever else you think about these programs, these letters suggest to me that members of Congress knew all of the basics of what NSA was doing. Complaints that they were kept in the dark, or that the programs were more extensive than they were led to believe, don’t have much to support them.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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