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A Tribune request for comment from the FBI was not immediately returned. An NSA spokeswoman declined to comment. CenturyLink, the Louisiana-based telecommunications giant that acquired Qwest in 2010, also declined comment.
‘’We do not have any information on this topic,’’ said spokesman Mark Molzen.
Since former NSA Edward Snowden contractor began leaking classified documents about domestic spying, Americans have learned that the agency’s efforts were more broad than previously thought. The Journal, in its Wednesday edition, noted that the spy shop was able to intercept nearly three-fourths of U.S. Internet traffic and in some cases, retains the contents of emails sent between Americans.
The NSA is building a huge data center in Bluffdale that could ultimately store some of the content it collects across the globe.
‘Shocking’ » Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said he had heard about the Journal report but didn’t know any further details.
"I think it would be shocking for anyone to hear that," Stewart said, adding that there’s a growing sense in Congress "that the answers they’ve been given in the past [by the NSA] probably aren’t sufficient."
Congress is likely to further probe the agency for details about its programs, Stewart added.
The 2002 spying would have come under President George W. Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program that didn’t seek court approval for some domestic surveillance. When the public learned about that program years later, Congress changed the law to ensure court approval — although in secret judicial proceedings.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest didn’t specifically mention the Salt Lake Olympics spying in a briefing Wednesday, though he defended the NSA’s operations as "narrowly focused" on international communications.
"One thing that has become clear is that these programs are operated by national security professionals, and that the conduct of these programs is critical to our national security," Earnest said. "There are documented cases where these programs have contributed to the disruption of terror plots."
The intelligence efforts, though, have also sparked calls to rein in the NSA’s mission.
Utah Internet pioneer Pete Ashdown said revelations of the 2002 surveillance was further reason for mistrusting the NSA and demanding reform of congressional oversight of the agency.
‘Above the law’ » ‘’The NSA has demonstrated over and over again that they are ready and willing to lie about their capabilities and what they have and haven’t done,’’ said Ashdown, owner of Xmission, the state’s oldest Internet service provider. ‘’This continues to be the tip of the iceberg.’’
‘’They consider it their prerogative to intercept as much data as they can off the Internet,’’ he said. ‘’They believe they are above the law.’’
Xmission was not asked at the time to install monitoring technology, Ashdown said. But emails of Xmission’s customers could well have been accessed in the Olympics-related surveillance program, given that smaller Internet companies often routed Internet traffic over portions of Qwest’s network to deliver their services.
Monitoring Qwest’s network in Utah in 2002 would have provided widespread but not complete access to Internet communications into and out of Salt Lake City, several sources said. The arrangement with Qwest could well have been accompanied by similar monitoring of other network providers.
Tony Semerad, Nate Carlisle, and Mike Gorrell contributed to this story.
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