USA Today says it got BellSouth and NSA story wrong
By SCOTT LEITH
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 06/30/06
BellSouth did not turn over call records to the
National Security Agency as reported in May by USA
Today, the newspaper said Friday in a full-page
account that included an editor's note about the
The paper, which said five lawmakers who were briefed
on the spy program were told BellSouth did not help
the NSA, reported that its initial story overreached
in describing the extent of phone company cooperation
with the NSA.
USA Today, however, reiterated that a huge database of
phone records does exist, assembled with assistance
from AT&T and the former MCI, which is now owned by
USA Today's May 11 article about the NSA's spying
program set off a firestorm of publicity, criticism
and lawsuits against phone companies, including
While AT&T has largely dodged questions about the
claims, Atlanta-based BellSouth has issued strong
objections to the paper's claims about the company's
role in the NSA.
On May 18, BellSouth took the unusual step of asking
for a formal retraction. It took more than six weeks
for USA Today to respond in print.
The paper reported Friday, as it has before, that a
BellSouth official was read the first story and did
not deny participation in the program. BellSouth later
Verizon has also objected to USA Today's story, saying
the company did not work with the NSA. Verizon,
however, carefully worded its statement to exclude the
activities of MCI, which was acquired by Verizon in
In an editor's note, USA Today said the NSA does have
a "massive, domestic calls record database." However,
the paper said it "cannot confirm that BellSouth or
Verizon contracted with the NSA to provide bulk
calling records to that database."
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) is quoted as saying that
BellSouth's denials appear to be accurate.
USA Today's story on the NSA was produced by seven reporters.