USA Today backs off NSA database story

Newspaper can't confirm Verizon, BellSouth gave phone records to the National Security Agency. Lawmakers reveal AT&T confirms it did.
Written by ZDNet UK, Contributor

Looks like USA Today did get it wrong. The paper reported in May that most major phone companies had turned over records to the NSA. BellSouth and Verizon denied the story. Now the paper concedes in a note to readers that it can't back up the charges for those two companies.

Based on its reporting since May 11, the paper said, it cannot confirm that BellSouth or Verizon contracted with NSA to provide records to the security agency's database of domestic calls.

[Following news that the companies told lawmakers in secret that they had not turned over records to NSA,] USA TODAY also spoke again with the sources who had originally provided information about the scope and contents of the domestic calls database. All said the published report accurately reflected their knowledge and understanding of the NSA program, but none could document a contractual relationship between BellSouth or Verizon and the NSA, or that the companies turned over bulk calling records to the NSA.

But, AP reports, spokesman Steve Anderson said "this is an important story that holds up well. At the heart of our report is the fact that NSA is collecting phone call records of millions of Americans."

"What we address in the editors' note," he said, "deals with the fact that we originally reported that the telephone companies were working under contract with the NSA. We've concluded that we cannot establish that BellSouth or Verizon entered into a contract with the NSA to provide the bulk calling records."

Meanwhile, lawmakers released details of closed-session conversations with phone company representatives, USA Today reported.

  • Five members of the intelligence committees said they were told by senior intelligence officials that AT&T participated in the NSA domestic calls program.
  • Five members of the intelligence committees said they were told that BellSouth did not turn over domestic call records to the NSA.
  • Three lawmakers said that they had been told that Verizon did not turn over call records to the NSA. However, those three and another lawmaker said MCI, the long-distance carrier that Verizon acquired in January, did provide call records to the government.
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