USA Today has a true bombshell this morning: the NSA has convinced every American landline phone carrier except one, Qwest, to hand over the complete records of every call made through their systems.
This story must have hit a nerve because the president scheduled a press conference for noon today. Besides the obligatory references to September 11 (does the president order a pizza without bringing up 9/11?) he forgot to deny the story, but he did deny that they’re doing anything nefarious with the records:
“We’re not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans,” he said. Instead, the NSA’s efforts “strictly target al-Qaeda and their known affiliates.”
So the government has amassed “the world’s largest database” which includes every call that you the reader has made since 9/11 unless you’re a Qwest customer, but they don’t plan to do anything with it. That makes sense, after all these guys would never think of misusing personal information about their political adversaries.
Refereshingly, even Republicans didn’t take the news well:
The Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, said he would call the phone companies to appear before the panel “to find out exactly what is going on.”
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, asked “why are the telephone companies not protecting their customers? I think they have a social responsibility to people who do business with them to protect our privacy as long there isn’t some suspicion that we’re a terrorist or a criminal or something.”
“I don’t know enough about the details except that I am willing to find out because I’m not sure why it would be necessary to keep and have that kind of information,” said House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told Fox News Channel: “The idea of collecting millions or thousands of phone numbers, how does that fit into following the enemy?”
The list of concerned Republicans doesn’t include John Cornyn, but you already knew that:
“The hyperbolic language is just ridiculous,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. “To suggest that there’s some sort of coverup is not correct, and the motivation of those who would suggest otherwise is obvious. We need to be conscious of what’s at stake: the security and safety of the American people. That should not fall prey to petty, partisan politics. One of the reasons the administration doesn’t tell more members of Congress about such programs is because Congress leaks.”
Among Senators who didn’t make today’s news, you can count on support from Bill Frist and I wouldn’t bet against Trent Lott voicing his indignation (revenge, dish, cold). I am sure that John McCain would prefer not to comment and will say something tepid if cornered.
It looks like the NSA picked a bad day to stonewall the wiretapping investigation. Whether Arlen Specter was in a mood for a scrap before, he sure is in one now.