Report Alleging Big NSA Admission Raises Questions

A blockbuster article published by CNET Saturday night alleges that the National Security Agency has the power to listen to Americans’ phone calls without a warrant.

That bold assertion lit up social media, but also drew skepticism, with many arguing that it seemed to be based on a misunderstanding.

The core of the CNET article focused on an exchange between Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and FBI Director Robert Mueller at a hearing on Thursday. (Watch above.) During questioning, Nadler claimed that in a separate, closed-door briefing, he had been told that NSA analysts could listen to the contents of a phone call at analysts’ discretion.

Given the apparent illegality of listening to Americans’ phone calls without warrants, some questioned whether Nadler understood the briefing he cited. As of late Saturday night, several publications were not able to reach the congressman for comment.

Mother Jones’s Kevin Drum writes that “information from that telephone” could mean one of many things, and that Nadler may 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.” Normative’s Julian Sanchez wrote that Nadler may have been referring to a more limited set of circumstances than the CNET article implied.

UPDATE: Nadler walked back his comments in a statement to BuzzFeed on Sunday. “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,” he said.

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