WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Army has launched its own probe of allegations that intelligence officials listened to personal phone calls from military members and other Americans overseas, a congressional committee chairman said on Wednesday.
U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, said the Army disclosed the investigation at a briefing for committee staff members on the spying allegations, a growing controversy which is already being investigated by the National Security Agency.
ABC News last week quoted two former military linguists as saying calls from Americans were routinely monitored under a special military program. Intelligence operators routinely shared salacious or tantalizing details with each other from the calls, ABC said. It said American journalists and aid workers also were monitored.
The accusations were the latest in a string of controversies surrounding surveillance programs under President George W. Bush’s war on terrorism.
“These allegations are serious, and they implicate the constitutional rights of American citizens, including the brave women and men who are serving our country in war zones,” Reyes, a Texas Democrat, said in a statement.
He said the inspector general of the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command would send a team next week to a military center in Georgia where the abuses were said to occur. Pentagon officials were not immediately available for comment.
White House spokesman Dana Perino said this week that any misconduct should be investigated.
The National Security Agency, the government’s electronic intelligence unit which ran the eavesdropping program at a facility at Fort Gordon, Georgia, said last week it was investigating the allegations and that some were found to be unsubstantiated.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, has also said his panel would examine the allegations.
The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday filed Freedom of Information Act requests to compel the security agency and the Justice Department to disclose their procedures for protecting privacy rights.
“The government has misled the American public about the scope of its surveillance activities and seems to contradict the statements of Bush administration officials who assured the public that the NSA’s surveillance activities were directed at suspected terrorists,” the ACLU said.
“It also suggests there are no real safeguards in place to protect the privacy of Americans who are swept up in NSA surveillance, and that any safeguards that do exist are ineffective or largely ignored by NSA agents,” it said.
Additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky; editing by Mohammad Zargham