CBSN

NSA Spying Wider Than Believed

WASHINGTON - APRIL 18: Former U.S. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle sits on the panel of the Commission on Federal Election Reform during a hearing at American University April 18, 2005 in Washington, DC. This is the first of two public hearings to examine the state of the federal election system in the U.S. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
GETTY
The National Security Agency has conducted much broader surveillance of e-mails and phone calls without court orders than the Bush administration has acknowledged, The New York Times reported on its Web site.

The NSA, with help from American telecommunications companies, obtained access to streams of domestic and international communications, said the Times in the report late Friday, citing unidentified current and former government officials.

The story did not name the companies.

Since the Times disclosed the domestic spying program last week, President Bush has stressed that his executive order allowing the eavesdropping was limited to people with known links to al Qaeda.

But the Times said that NSA technicians have combed through large volumes of phone and Internet traffic in search of patterns that might lead to terrorists.

The volume of information harvested from telecommunications data and voice networks, without court-approved warrants, is much larger than the White House has acknowledged, the paper said, quoting an unnamed official.

The story quoted a former technology manager at a major telecommunications firm as saying that companies have been storing information on calling patterns since the Sept. 11 attacks, and giving it to the federal government. Neither the manager nor the company he worked for was identified.

Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said the use of warrantless wiretaps on American citizens was never discussed when Congress authorized the White House to use force against al Qaeda after the Sept. 11 attacks.

In an article printed Friday on the op-ed page of The Washington Post, Daschle also wrote that Congress explicitly denied a White House request for war-making authority in the United States.

"This last-minute change would have given the president broad authority to exercise expansive powers not just overseas ... but right here in the United States, potentially against American citizens," Daschle wrote.

"The Bush administration now argues those powers were inherently contained in the resolution adopted by Congress — but at the time, the administration clearly felt they weren't or it wouldn't have tried to insert the additional language," the South Dakota Democrat wrote.

Daschle was Senate Democratic leader at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington. He is now a fellow at the Center for American Progress, a liberal Washington think tank.

The administration formally defended its domestic spying program in a letter to Congress late Thursday, saying the nation's security outweighs privacy concerns of individuals who are monitored.

In a letter to the chairs of the House and Senate intelligence committees, the Justice Department said President Bush authorized electronic surveillance without first obtaining a warrant in an effort to thwart terrorist acts against the United States.

"There is undeniably an important and legitimate privacy interest at stake with respect to the activities described by the president," wrote Assistant Attorney General William E. Moschella. "That must be balanced, however, against the government's compelling interest in the security of the nation."

Mr. Bush has acknowledged he authorized such surveillance and repeatedly has defended it in recent days.

But Moschella's letter was the administration's first public notice to Congress about the program in which electronic surveillance was conducted without the approval of a secret court created to examine requests for wiretaps and searches in the most sensitive terrorism and espionage cases.

Moschella maintained that Mr. Bush acted legally when he authorized the National Security Agency to go around the court to conduct electronic surveillance of international communications into and out of the United States by suspects tied to al Qaeda or its affiliates.

CBS News correspondent Jim Stewart reports that, in addition to questions about the legality of the program, another question certain to be asked by Congress is what the secret surveillance accomplished.

So far the White House has

, Stewart reports. That was the case of Iyman Faris, an Ohio truck driver and naturalized U.S. citizen, who pleaded guilty in 2003 to supporting Al Qaeda by planning to cut down the Brooklyn bridge with a blowtorch. The NSA spy program was necessary because it "helped uncover" the Faris plot, the White House told The New York Times, which broke the surveillance story. But last summer the president gave credit for the Faris case to the Patriot Act, which does require court approval for wiretaps.