0941 GMT November 21, 2019
The US Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) recorded virtually all overseas telephone calls made from the United States for more than two decades, according to an investigative report by USA Today, Press TV reported.
The DEA, a federal law enforcement agency under the Justice Department, massed logs of nearly all telephone calls from the USA to as many as 116 countries linked to drug trafficking, the report said, citing current and former officials involved with the operation.
The now-discontinued spying operation was conducted on millions of US citizens regardless of whether they were suspected of a crime and had approval from the highest levels of the US government.
More than a dozen current and former law enforcement and intelligence officials described the details of the Justice Department operation, most of them speaking on condition of anonymity. The extent of that surveillance has alarmed privacy advocates, who question its legality.
The DEA data collection began in 1992 during the administration of President George H.W. Bush, nine years before his son, President George W. Bush, authorized the NSA in 2001 to gather its own program of recording Americans' phone calls.
The operation was the government's first known attempt to collect information on Americans in bulk. The spying program became a model for the massive phone surveillance system the NSA later launched to identify terrorists.
US whistleblower and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden disclosed the massive NSA operation to the news media in 2013, drawing strong criticism that the government had intruded too deeply into the privacy of Americans.
The NSA began collecting its own data on Americans' phone several months after the September 11, 2001 attacks as a way to identify suspected terrorists within the country. The similarities between the NSA program and the DEA operation established a decade earlier are striking, analysts say.
US Attorney General Eric Holder halted the DEA data collection in September 2013 following the fallout from Snowden's revelations about the NSA surveillance programs.