Hume leveled false attack on USA Today call-tracking report, suggested NSA has access only to Americans' phone numbers

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Fox News' Brit Hume leveled a false attack on USA Today's May 11 report on the National Security Agency's collection of the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, claiming that "[n]ot until page 5 in a sidebar, however, does the paper report the following, quote: 'Phone customers' names, addresses and other personal information are not being collected as part of this program.' " In fact, while that quote did appear in a sidebar article on page 5A, the same information also appeared on page 1A, in USA Today's main article.

During the "Grapevine" segment of the May 11 edition of Fox News' Special Report, host and Fox News Washington managing editor Brit Hume leveled a false attack on USA Today's May 11 report that "[t]he National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans." As Hume noted, USA Today reported that the NSA "reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans." Hume then told viewers: "Not until page 5 in a sidebar, however, does the paper report the following, quote: 'Phone customers' names, addresses and other personal information are not being collected as part of this program.' " In fact, while that quote did appear in a sidebar article on page 5A, the same information also appeared on page 1A, in USA Today's main article.

Moreover, Hume did not tell viewers that in the very next sentence of its article, USA Today explained that "the phone numbers the NSA collects can easily be cross-checked with other databases to obtain" names, addresses and "other personal information."

The Washington Post noted on May 12 that "the government has many means of identifying [telephone] account owners, including access to commercial databases from ChoicePoint and LexisNexis."

From the May 11 USA Today article, as it appeared on page 1A:

With access to records of billions of domestic calls, the NSA has gained a secret window into the communications habits of millions of Americans. Customers' names, street addresses and other personal information are not being handed over as part of NSA's domestic program, the sources said. But the phone numbers the NSA collects can easily be cross-checked with other databases to obtain that information.

From the USA Today's May 11 sidebar on page 5A:

The NSA collected "call-detail" records. That's telephone industry lingo for the numbers being dialed. Phone customers' names, addresses and other personal information are not being collected as part of this program. The agency, however, has the means to assemble that sort of information, if it chooses to do so.

In two separate segments on Special Report, chief White House correspondent Carl Cameron and chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle also emphasized USA Today's report that the information collected by the NSA does not include names, addresses, and other information. Cameron reported that the records being obtained by the NSA "include only the numbers of dialed and received calls" and not "customer names, addresses, or anything about the actual call content." Similarly, Angle reported that "the NSA is reportedly collecting nothing more than phone call records, without any names or addresses."

Neither Cameron nor Angle reported that, according to USA Today, such information can be "easily" obtained by cross-referencing the NSA database with other databases.

Later, during the "All Star Panel" segment of Special Report, Hume said that the NSA "do[es] not collect the names." In response, one of the panelists -- either Roll Call executive editor Morton M. Kondracke or Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes -- said off-camera, "But they can get the names." NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson added, "The names are easy to get."

Hume continued, "They might have to go another step, presumably with a warrant, to get the names or whatever." Liasson then explained that "they wouldn't have to use a warrant; they could just do a cross-referencing. It's easy to get a name once you get the phone number."

From the May 11 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

CAMERON: Mr. Bush was responding to a front-page USA Today report that Verizon, AT&T, and BellSouth are cooperating in the war on terror by providing call-data records to the National Security Agency for analysis. Data records include only the numbers of dialed and received calls, which can be used to detect patterns and suspected links to terrorism. The data records that the NSA is obtaining do not contain customer names, addresses, or anything about the actual call content.

[...]

ANGLE: But others of both parties said this is far different and far less intrusive than actually listening to suspected terrorist communications. In this case, the NSA is reportedly collecting nothing more than phone call records, without any names or addresses.

[...]

HUME: Today's front-page USA Today story on the NSA's database of information on domestic phone calls reports that the agency, quote, "reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans." Not until page 5 in a sidebar, however, does the paper report the following, quote: "Phone customers' names, addresses and other personal information are not being collected as part of this program."

[...]

HUME: What struck me about the story was also the fact that apparently what they are doing is they are collecting these numbers so in case they, for example, I suppose, pick up a terrorist's phone number, they can find out what numbers were called in the U.S. But they do not collect the names, unless, I suppose, and until --

OFF-CAMERA PANELIST: But they can get the names.

HUME: They can get the names.

LIASSON: No, but the names are easy to get.

HUME: Well, maybe so, but the fact is that's not what this program does yet. They might have to go another step, presumably with a warrant, to get the names or whatever.

LIASSON: Yeah, it's to do -- well, no, they wouldn't have to use a warrant; they could just do a cross-referencing. It's easy to get a name once you get the phone number.

Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel
Person
Brit Hume
Show/Publication
Special Report with Brit Hume
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