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Report: NSA Admitted it Can Listen in on Phone Calls Without Warrants (Updated)

"Simply based on an analyst deciding that."

A sign stands outside the National Security Administration (NSA) campus in Fort Meade, Md., Thursday, June 6, 2013. (AP)

Editor's note: See update below.

The National Security Agency disclosed in a classified Capitol Hill briefing that it can listen in on domestic phone calls without a warrant, according to tech site CNET.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) told FBI Director Robert Mueller during an open House Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday that he was told "specific information" from the telephone could be accessed "simply based on an analyst deciding that."

A sign stands outside the National Security Administration (NSA) campus in Fort Meade, Md., Thursday, June 6, 2013. (AP)

Mueller initially said that for the government to listen in on a phone call, you would need "a special, a particularized order from the FISA court directed at that particular phone of that particular individual."

Nadler said they had heard "precisely the opposite" at a briefing the other day.

"We heard precisely that you could get the specific information from that telephone simply based on an analyst deciding that...In other words, what you just said is incorrect. So there's a conflict," Nadler said.

CNET noted that "because the same legal standards that apply to phone calls also apply to e-mail messages, text messages, and instant messages, Nadler's disclosure indicates the NSA analysts could also access the contents of Internet communications without going before a court and seeking approval."

But the report, published Saturday night, is facing some skepticism. Liberal site Mother Jones noted that it's "not clear precisely what 'information from that telephone' means," and suggested Nadler could have been "confusing the ability of an analyst to get subscriber information for a phone number with the ability to listen to the call itself."

Neither Nadler nor the NSA commented on CNET's report.

UPDATE: Nadler and the office of the Director of National Intelligence each issued statements to BuzzFeed denying that the NSA can eavesdrop on Americans' phone calls without a warrant.

Nadler statement:

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.

DNI statement:

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.

Editor's note: The headline to this post has been changed.



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