USA Today acknowledged in what it called a "note to our readers" Friday that it could not establish that BellSouth or Verizon contracted with the National Security Agency to provide the NSA with customer calling records, as the newspaper had previously reported.
Still, newspaper spokesman Steve Anderson said, "this is an important story that holds up well. At the heart of our report is the fact that NSA is collecting phone call records of millions of Americans.
"What we address in the editors' note," he said, "deals with the fact that we originally reported that the telephone companies were working under contract with the NSA. We've concluded that we cannot establish that BellSouth or Verizon entered into a contract with the NSA to provide the bulk calling records."
In an accompanying article, the newspaper reported Friday that lawmakers on the House and Senate intelligence committees had said that although the NSA had amassed a huge database of calling records, cooperation with the NSA by phone companies was not as extensive as USA Today initially reported May 11.
USA Today at that time reported that, according to its sources, AT&T;, BellSouth and Verizon had all agreed to provide the agency with domestic call records. The newspaper said Friday that Verizon and BellSouth denied they contracted to provide the NSA with records of their customers' phone calls. AT&T; has neither confirmed nor denied the newspaper's report.
BellSouth issued a statement Friday saying: "As we have stated numerous times, the NSA never contacted BellSouth, and we never supplied customer calling records to the NSA."
The Los Angeles Times and other media outlets reported in detail on the USA Today allegations at the time. In follow-up stories, The Times reported the denials of BellSouth and Verizon that they had granted the NSA access to electronic databases.
Some lawmakers briefed on the program said the NSA had a database of domestic calls that included numbers called and the length of conversations, without what was said.