A New York Times article characterized the National Security Agency's domestic spying program as "eavesdrop[ping] on some international calls involving people in the United States." However, the exact scope and dimensions of the program remain unclear, and there is evidence that it intercepted communications in which all parties were located in the United States.
Reporting on a January 4 speech Vice President Dick Cheney delivered in defense of the Bush administration's recently disclosed domestic eavesdropping program, a January 5 article in The New York Times by Richard W. Stevenson characterized the National Security Agency program as "eavesdrop[ping] on some international calls involving people in the United States." However, the exact scope and dimensions of the program remain unclear. The NSA program has reportedly intercepted communications in which all parties were located in the United States -- something the Times failed to note despite having been the first to report on these domestic intercepts less than a month earlier.
Stevenson also omitted any reference to the reason why the program -- first reported in a December 16 New York Times article -- has been so strongly denounced: President Bush has acknowledged authorizing numerous wiretaps of communications involving people in the United States, without following the procedures for obtaining a warrant that are set out in the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
Cheney delivered his speech to the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington D.C.
A few hours after Mr. Bush spoke, Vice President Dick Cheney struck some of the same themes in a speech in Washington. Mr. Cheney, who has consistently advocated an expansive view of presidential powers, especially in wartime, also made an unusually personal defense of the administration's use of the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on some international calls involving people in the United States. Disclosure of the program set off a storm of criticism that the administration had infringed on the civil liberties of Americans and possibly acted illegally.
Contrary to the article's characterization, as Media Matters for America has noted, the scope of the program remains murky, as there has apparently been little to no substantive judicial or congressional oversight. But according to a December 21 New York Times article by James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, in addition to intercepting communications between people in the U.S. and people abroad, the NSA has in fact intercepted exclusively domestic communications, as well:
A surveillance program approved by President Bush to conduct eavesdropping without warrants has captured what are purely domestic communications in some cases, despite a requirement by the White House that one end of the intercepted conversations take place on foreign soil, officials say.
The officials say the National Security Agency's interception of a small number of communications between people within the United States was apparently accidental, and was caused by technical glitches at the National Security Agency in determining whether a communication was in fact "international."
Eavesdropping on communications between two people who are both inside the United States is prohibited under Mr. Bush's order allowing some domestic surveillance.
But in at least one instance, someone using an international cellphone was thought to be outside the United States when in fact both people in the conversation were in the country. Officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the program remains classified, would not discuss the number of accidental intercepts, but the total is thought to represent a very small fraction of the total number of wiretaps that Mr. Bush has authorized without getting warrants. In all, officials say the program has been used to eavesdrop on as many as 500 people at any one time, with the total number of people reaching perhaps into the thousands in the last three years.