companies let NSA spy on phone calls
AT&T, Sprint, MCI, cooperate with U.S. agency
Leslie Cauley and John Diamond, USA Today
The Arizona Republic
Monday, February 6, 2006
The National Security Agency has secured the cooperation of
large telecommunications companies, including AT&T, MCI and
Sprint, in its efforts to eavesdrop without warrants on
international calls by suspected terrorists, according to
seven telecommunications executives.
The executives asked to remain anonymous because of the
sensitivity of the program. AT&T, MCI and Sprint had no
The Senate Judiciary Committee begins hearings today on the
government's program of monitoring international calls and
e-mails of a domestic target without first obtaining court
orders. At issue: whether the surveillance is legal, as
President Bush insists, or an illegal intrusion into the
lives of Americans, as lawsuits by civil libertarians
In domestic investigations, phone companies routinely
require court orders before cooperating.
A majority of international calls are handled by
long-distance carriers AT&T, MCI and Sprint. All three own
"gateway" switches capable of routing calls to points around
AT&T was recently acquired by SBC Communications, which has
adopted the AT&T name as its corporate moniker. MCI,
formerly known as WorldCom, was recently acquired by
Verizon. Sprint recently merged with Nextel.
The New York Times,
which disclosed the clandestine operation in December,
previously reported that telecommunications companies have
been cooperating with the government, but it did not name
the companies involved.
Decisions about monitoring calls are made in four steps,
according to two U.S. intelligence officials familiar with
the program who insisted on anonymity because it remains
- Information from U.S. or allied intelligence or law
enforcement points to a terrorism-related target either
based in the United States or communicating with someone in
the United States.
- Using a 48-point checklist to identify possible links to
al-Qaida, one of three NSA officials authorized to approve a
warrantless intercept decides whether the surveillance is
- Technicians work with phone company officials to
intercept communications pegged to a particular person or
phone number. Telecommunications executives say MCI, AT&T
and Sprint grant the access to their systems without
warrants or court orders. Instead, they are cooperating on
the basis of oral requests from senior government officials.
- If the surveillance yields information about a terror
plot, the NSA notifies the FBI or other appropriate agencies
but does not always disclose the source of its information.
The two intelligence officials said that number has been
whittled down to about 600 people in the United States who
have been targeted for repeated surveillance since the Sept.