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Report: Telecom companies aid in eavesdropping

From Dana Bash and Kevin Bohn
CNN

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National Security Agency (NSA)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Telecommunications companies are helping the National Security Agency collect information as part of a program President Bush secretly approved in 2002, a source familiar with the program said.

The program, which involves domestic surveillance of Americans and other people who communicate with terror suspects abroad, requires the agency to collect, trace and analyze data from these companies.

Two sources, both former officials with knowledge of the program, said a great deal of information is analyzed to glean information on terror plots. (Watch U.S. Department of Justice defend the program -- 2:32)

The New York Times on Saturday reported that the NSA has been monitoring "large volumes of telephone and Internet communications flowing into and out of the United States" -- a larger volume than previously indicated by the administration.

"NSA has gained the cooperation of American telecommunications companies to obtain back-door access to streams of domestic and international communications," the newspaper added.

A former official familiar with the program said that eavesdropping is not sufficient to understand the information being collected, but by employing communications companies to help find patterns that point to terror suspects officials are better able to discern what is threatening.

"It is the search for a pattern of communication that leads you to concern and threats. To not find out those things is scary," one source said, calling the program successful. (Read about the Bush administration's stance on eavesdropping)

Those types of patterns include who is talking to whom, when they are talking, and where they are when they are communicating.

The White House will not comment on stories that "may or may not be about intelligence operations on the war on terror," spokesman Allen Abney said.

"This administration will continue to aggressively fight the war on terror and protect the American people, while at the same time uphold the civil liberties of the American people. The president is doing this and will continue to do these things," he said.

Several former U.S. officials expressed frustration that this program was publicized and called it a blow to America's ability to successfully combat terror.

CNN was not able to confirm which, if any, telecommunications companies have participated in the program.

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