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How many phone conversations did government monitor?

The White House Chief of Staff says he thinks Edward Snowden overstated when he said he could listen in on the president's calls. (AP Photo/file)

The Obama administration is trying to reassure Americans that government eavesdroppers do not sit at computer terminals browsing their private conversations.

White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough says on CBS’ Face the Nation:

“The president recognizes that he has a fundamental obligation to the American people and that is to keep them safe, but he also swore an oath to uphold the constitution.”

We know that the NSA has been collecting the phone records of every American, basically the information on your bill. Now we’re figuring out how many actual conversations they listen to.

According to a document sent from top intelligence officials to Congress over the weekend, they listened to fewer than 300 conversations last year. All of them were flagged as having ties to foreign terrorist organizations. But Edward Snowden claimed that he could tap into any conversation, so CBS’ Bob Schieffer put it to the White House Chief of Staff.

Schieffer: He claimed for example that he could listen in on anybody’s conversation including the president’s. Did he overstate his ability to do these things?

McDonough: It’s surely my view that he did.

As for whether the program actually stops terrorism plots, Michigan Republican Mike Rogers, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, says newly declassified documents show that it has.

“There are several dozen or more disrupted plots that have saved Americans lives and also our allies, in excess of 20 countries,” says Rogers.

But on NBC’s Meet the Press, Senator Mark Udall, D-Colorado, says that’s not good enough for him.

“I don’t think collecting millions and millions of Americans phone calls – now this is the metadata, this is time place, to whom you direct the calls – is making us any safer, and I think it’s ultimately perhaps a violation of the Fourth Amendment.”

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