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U.S. probes claims officials eavesdropped on calls
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The National Security Agency said on Thursday it was investigating allegations that intelligence officials listened to personal phone calls from military officers, journalists and other Americans living outside the United States.
The comments followed media reports that U.S. agents intercepted calls from U.S. citizens using satellite phones to call friends and relatives back home even though they were clearly not terrorism suspects.
"Some of these allegations have been investigated and found to be unsubstantiated. Others are in the investigation process," the agency said in a statement.
The allegations, reported by ABC News earlier on Thursday, were made by two former military linguists who said calls from Americans, including aid workers, were monitored as part of the Bush administration's controversial surveillance program.
Intelligence operators routinely shared details with each other from the intercepted calls, especially those including intimate conversations, one linguist told ABC.
Administration officials have said the program is used narrowly to protect the country against possible attack, but human rights groups and others say it threatens citizens' privacy.
Congress allowed the program to continue earlier this year, giving authorities the power to eavesdrop on people outside the United States without a court order, while including rules aimed at minimizing such surveillance.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller said his panel would examine the allegations and requested related information from the White House.
"There are strict procedures in place governing intelligence surveillance when it involves U.S. persons. The Committee will take whatever action is necessary to ensure those rules are followed and any violations are addressed," the West Virginia Democrat said.
Opponents of the program said the allegations showed the rules were inadequate.
"Today's report is an indictment not only of the Bush administration, but of all of those political leaders, Democratic and Republican, who have been saying that the executive branch can be trusted with surveillance powers that are essentially unchecked," said Jameel Jaffer, head of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Security Project.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Peter Cooney)
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