“Rather than allow our intelligence professionals to maintain a laser focus on the terrorists, we are once again mired in a debate about what our intelligence community may or may not be doing,” he said. But many Democrats and civil-liberties advocates said they were disturbed by the report, invoking images of Big Brother and announcing legislation aimed at reining in the NSA’s domestic operations. Fifty-two members of Congress asked the president to name a special counsel to investigate the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs. Some leading Republicans also raised concerns. Sen. Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who leads the Judiciary Committee, said the reported data-mining activities raised serious constitutional questions and that he planned to seek the testimony of telephone company executives. The House majority leader, John Boehner, said he wanted more information on the program because “I am not sure why it would be necessary to keep and have that kind of information.” In his remarks, Bush did not directly confirm or deny the existence of the data-mining operation, but he said that “as a general matter, every time sensitive intelligence is leaked, it hurts our ability to defeat this enemy.” Seeking to distinguish call-tracing operations from actual eavesdropping, the president said “the government does not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval.” The records involved include phone numbers called, time, date and direction of call and other details but not the words spoken, according to telecommunications experts. Customers’ names and addresses are not included in the companies’ call records, though they could be cross-referenced to obtain personal data. Hayden, making rounds at the Capitol to seek support for his confirmation as CIA director, did not discuss the report but defended his former agency. “Everything that NSA does is lawful and very carefully done,” Hayden said. The law on data-mining activities is murky terrain, and legal analysts were divided Thursday on the question of whether the NSA’s tracing and analysis of huge streams of American communications data would require the agency to use subpoenas or court warrants. Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, said, “If they don’t get a court order, it’s a crime.” She said while the FBI might be able to get access to phone collection databases by using an administrative subpoena, her reading of federal law is that the NSA would be banned from doing so without court approval. But another expert on the law of electronic surveillance, Kenneth C. Bass III, said if access to the call database was granted in response to a national security letter issued by the government, “it would probably not be illegal, but it would be very troubling.” “The concept of the NSA having near-real-time access to information about every call made in the country is chilling,” said Bass, former counsel for intelligence policy at the Justice Department. He said the phone records program resembled Total Information Awareness, a Pentagon data-mining program shut down by Congress in 2003 after a public outcry. The NSA refused to discuss the report, but said in a statement that it “takes its legal responsibilities seriously and operates within the law.” AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth all issued statements affirming that they follow the law in protecting customers’ privacy but would not discuss details of the report. “AT&T has a long history of vigorously protecting customer privacy,” said Selim Bingol, a company spokesman. “We also have an obligation to assist law enforcement and other government agencies responsible for protecting the public welfare.” Two former intelligence officials said they did not have direct knowledge of the NSA program but questioned whether the agency had unlimited access to the call data. One of the officials, granted anonymity because the program is classified, said he believed the companies have probably complied with more-specific requests for data, such as records of all calls from Afghanistan to United States numbers. The other, Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker, a former NSA general counsel, agreed, saying that for NSA to get access to a massive collection of domestic call data would be a break with decades of trying to be precise and limited when seeking data that raised concerns about Americans’ privacy. “I can’t believe all that history has been set aside,” said Parker, now dean of the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law. Specter said in an interview that he would press for information on the operations of the NSA program to determine its legality. “I don’t think we can really make a judgment on whether warrants would be necessary until we know a lot more about the program,” said the senator. One central question is whether the NSA uses its analysis of phone-call patterns to select people in the United States whose phone calls and e-mail messages are monitored without warrants. The Times has reported that the agency is believed to have eavesdropped on the international communications of about 400 to 500 people within the United States at a time, with thousands of people targeted since the Sept. 11 attacks. Democrats said they would use the new disclosures to push for more answers about the NSA’s domestic activities from Hayden at his confirmation hearing, set for Thursday. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., predicted “a major constitutional confrontation on Fourth Amendment guarantees of unreasonable search and seizure” and she said the new disclosures presented “a growing impediment to the confirmation of Hayden.”160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREBasketball roundup: Sierra Canyon, Birmingham set to face off in tournament quarterfinalsBut neither Bush nor any other administration figure explicitly denied the account, which suggested that the NSA’s surveillance and data-mining operations in the United States go further than previously acknowledged and rekindled the controversy about domestic spying. Several lawmakers predicted that the new disclosures would complicate confirmation hearings next week for Gen. Michael V. Hayden, formerly the head of the NSA, as the president’s nominee to lead the Central Intelligence Agency. The New York Times first reported in December, a week after its initial disclosure that the president had authorized the NSA to conduct eavesdropping without warrants, that the agency had gained the cooperation of American telecommunications companies to get access to records of vast amounts of domestic and international phone calls and e-mail messages. The agency analyzes communications patterns, the report said, and looks for evidence of terrorist activity at home and abroad. The USA Today article Thursday went further, saying the NSA had created an enormous database of all calls made by customers of the three phone companies in an effort to compile a log of “every call ever made” within this country. The report said one large phone company, Qwest, had refused to cooperate with the NSA because it was uneasy about the legal implications of handing over customer information to the government without warrants. Some Republicans, including Rep. Peter Hoekstra, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, defended the NSA’s activities and denounced the disclosure. Hoekstra, R-Michigan, said the report “threatens to undermine our nation’s safety.” WASHINGTON – Congressional Republicans and Democrats alike demanded answers from the Bush administration Thursday about a report that the National Security Agency has collected records of millions of domestic phone calls, even as President George W. Bush assured Americans that their privacy is “fiercely protected.” “We’re not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans,” Bush said before leaving for a commencement address in Mississippi. “Our efforts are focused on links to al-Qaida and their known affiliates.” The president sought to defuse a tempest on Capitol Hill over an article in USA Today reporting that AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth have turned over tens of millions of customer phone records to the NSA since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But Bush’s remarks appeared to do little to mollify members of Congress, as several leading lawmakers said they wanted to hear directly from administration officials and telecommunication executives. The USA Today report could not be independently confirmed, and some former intelligence officials questioned the accuracy of some details.