WASHINGTON – The Senate Intelligence Committee is examining allegations by two former U.S. military linguists that the super-secret National Security Agency routinely eavesdropped on the private telephone calls of American military officers, journalists and aid workers.
NSA interceptors purportedly shared some intercepts of highly personal conversations, including “phone sex.”
If the allegations are true, they could re-ignite a political firestorm over the administration’s post-Sept. 11 eavesdropping operations and its efforts to collect vast quantities of data about Americans’ tax, medical and travel records; credit card purchases; e-mails and other information.
President Bush and other senior officials have repeatedly asserted that after the Sept. 11 attacks the NSA only monitored the private communications of Americans suspected of links to al-Qaida or other terrorist groups without court orders.
The allegations follow the release Tuesday of a study by a government advisory group that questions how useful communications intercepts and another technique known as data mining are at ferreting out terrorist plots.
“The information sought by analysts must be filtered out of the huge quantity of data available (the needle in the haystack problem),” says two-year, 352-page study by the National Research Council for the Department of Homeland Security. “Terrorist groups will make calculated efforts to conceal their identity and mask their behaviors, and will use various strategies such as encryption, code words, and multiple identities to obfuscate the data they are generating and exchanging,” the report says.
“Even under the pressure of threats as serious as terrorism, the privacy rights and civil liberties that are the cherished core values of our nation must not be destroyed,” the report warns.
An ABC News report Thursday quoted two former military linguists saying that the country’s largest intelligence agency routinely recorded calls to homes and offices by hundreds of American military officers, journalists and aid workers who were posted in the Middle East between 2001 and 2007.
The interviews were scheduled to air Thursday evening on ABC’s “World News” and “Nightline” programs, according to the report.
One of the two, Adrienne Kinne, 31, an Army Reserve Arabic linguist, first spoke publicly about the alleged monitoring of American journalists and aid workers in Iraq on the independent radio program “Democracy Now!” in May.
The other former military linguist who spoke to ABC News was identified as former Navy Arabic linguist David Murfee Faulk, 39. He and Kinne worked at the NSA’s eavesdropping center at Fort Gordon, Ga.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., called the allegations “extremely disturbing.” He said in a statement that the panel is examining the matter and has asked the administration for “all relevant information.”
A comment from the White House wasn’t immediately available. In a statement, the NSA said that “some of the allegations have been investigated and found to be unsubstantiated” and that “others are in the investigation process.”
“When we find misconduct we take swift and certain remedial action. We operate in strict accordance with U.S. laws and regulations and with the highest standards of integrity and lawful action. Our activities are subject to strict scrutiny and oversight both from outside and inside NSA,” the statement said.