The Justice Department secretly tracked billions of American phone calls made abroad nearly a decade before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, USA Today reported Tuesday. The Justice Department and Drug Enforcement Administration collected bulk data on phone calls made to as many as 116 countries with a connection to drug trafficking, current and former officials involved in the operation said. Though the program did not intercept the content of phone calls, it served as a blueprint for the National Security Agency’s phone-surveillance system and was approved by top Justice Department officials in four presidential administrations. Federal officials say they used the call records to monitor drug cartels’ distribution networks.
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