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Intelligence agencies brief senators on phone records

WASHINGTON -- Representatives of U.S. intelligence agencies involved in a government program to gather Americans' telephone records went to Capitol Hill on Thursday to brief senators on the scheme.

Robert Litt, general counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence; James Cole, the deputy attorney general; Sean Joyce, the deputy director of the FBI, and Chris Inglis, the deputy director of the National Security Agency, conducted the briefing, said Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The hastily arranged session lasted for about 2- hours and was attended by 27 members of the 100-member Senate.

Feinstein said several other senators had asked for a special session after Britain's Guardian newspaper published a secret court order related to the collection of records of millions of customers of Verizon Communications.

"Members ... made comments they were astonished they didn't know this was happening," she told reporters.

The report added new fuel to a fire raging in the United States over how to balance privacy rights and civil liberties with concerns about national security.

Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican member of the intelligence committee, told reporters after leaving the briefing that the Guardian report was not completely accurate, but said it is difficult to balance privacy and security issues.

Asked if he thought there was abuse, Rubio said, "There are always ways to improve any program."

The intelligence committee, one of the congressional panels that oversees the telephone records program, had been scheduled to hold a regular meeting on Thursday.