Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told Andrea Mitchell Reports Thursday that the National Security Agency's collection of Verizon phone numbers, including the time and duration of customer calls, was not done in secret.
"This is a routine, every three months, court re-authorization of a program that's been in existence for a very long time," Feinstein said.
"This is from the business records provision of the  Patriot Act," Feinstein told Mitchell, saying it was renewed a number of times, most recently in 2010 and 2011. "Before the last two renewals, both the vice chairman of Intelligence Committee and myself sent a letter to every member of the Senate, saying this was the case. The records are classified. You can come and look at them if you wish."
"Additionally, the Intelligence Committee has had hearings on this; the Judiciary Committee has had hearings on this. It's been fought out on the floor."
Feinstein emphasized that the NSA acquired phone numbers, time and duration—not the content of phone conversations.
"My understanding is, if they want to look at content, they have to go into a court," Feinstein said. "This program has strong restrictions on it. The data are just phone numbers and trunk lines; there's no content. It is put behind a wall. The only way it can be used is if there is strict scrutiny."
Republican Chair of the House Intelligence Committee Mike Rogers said that a domestic terror attack had been thwarted because of the NSA collection of phone records. "In the last few years, this program did stop a terrorist plot here," Rogers said during an announcement on cyber hacking.
Feinstein focused on the leak that brought the collection of phone numbers to light.
"This opinion, as I understand it, is under seal. So clearly it was leaked," Feinstein said. "I think we have become a culture of leaks now."
NBC Chief Justice Correspondent Pete Williams reported that according to his sources "there will be a leak investigation," and called it "one of the most classified documents we've seen made public."
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