Ever since President Bush confirmed the existence of a National Security Administration wiretapping program in late 2005, he has insisted it is aimed only at terrorists’ calls and protects Americans’ civil liberties:
– If somebody from al Qaeda is calling you, we’d like to know why. … In the meantime, this program is conscious of people’s civil liberties, as am I. This is a limited program designed to prevent attacks on the United States of America — and I repeat: limited. [1/1/06]
– This is a — I repeat to you, even though you hear words, “domestic spying,” these are not phone calls within the United States. It’s a phone call of an al Qaeda, known al Qaeda suspect, making a phone call into the United States. I’m mindful of your civil liberties. [1/23/06]
– People who analyze the program fully understand that America’s civil liberties are well protected. There is a constant check to make sure that our civil liberties of our citizens are treated with respect. [2/28/08]
However, ABC News reports that the NSA frequently listened to and transcribed the private phone calls of Americans abroad, according to two former military intercept operators. These conversations included those of American soldiers stationed in Iraq and American aid workers abroad, such as Doctors Without Borders:
[Former Navy Arab linguist David Murfee] Faulk says he and others in his section of the NSA facility at Fort Gordon routinely shared salacious or tantalizing phone calls that had been intercepted, alerting office mates to certain time codes of “cuts” that were available on each operator’s computer.
“Hey, check this out,” Faulk says he would be told, “there’s good phone sex or there’s some pillow talk, pull up this call, it’s really funny, go check it out. It would be some colonel making pillow talk and we would say, ‘Wow, this was crazy’,” Faulk told ABC News. [...]
“We knew they were working for these aid organizations,” [former Army Reserves Arab linguist Adrienne] Kinne told ABC News. “They were identified in our systems as ‘belongs to the International Red Cross’ and all these other organizations. And yet, instead of blocking these phone numbers we continued to collect on them,” she told ABC News.
Kinne called Bush’s assurances that the U.S. was only tracking phone calls of a “known al Qaeda suspect” “completely a lie.” Click here to watch ABC’s report.