In a rare rebuke of a public figure alleging himself to be an intelligence target of the United States, the National Security Agency on Tuesday roundly rejected claims of illegal surveillance leveled by Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
The prime-time host had painted himself as the focus of a nefarious government plot during his Monday night show, accusing U.S. intelligence officials of planning to “take [his] show off the air” by leaking his private communications.
Twenty-four hours later, the NSA took the unusual step of responding to Carlson’s claim.
“This allegation is untrue,” the agency said in a Tuesday night tweet. “Tucker Carlson has never been an intelligence target of the Agency and the NSA has never had any plans to try and take his program off air,” it said.
Carlson has provided no evidence to support the claim that his personal communications have been swept up by the NSA, except to repeatedly cite an anonymous “whistleblower” whom he says is in a “position to know.”
“The Biden administration is spying on us,” the top-rated host told his audience on Monday. “We have confirmed that this morning.”
The NSA is authorized to conduct surveillance of foreigners’ communications and often obtains records of phone calls and internet messages of noncitizens from American companies such as Google and AT&T. Such records can be obtained by the agency without a warrant, even if a foreign target happens to be communicating with an American.
While the agency is required to take steps to minimize the appearance of Americans in intelligence reports, thousands are nevertheless identified at the request of U.S. officials each year.
“With limited exceptions (e.g. an emergency,) NSA may not target a US citizen without a court order that explicitly authorizes the targeted,” the NSA added Tuesday.
In defending Carlson from allegations of slander last year, Fox News’s attorneys effectively argued in court that the host is widely known to traffic in hyperbole and “non-literal commentary.” Viewers can tell by the “general tenor” of his show that he is “not stating actual facts,” they said.
The court ultimately sided with Fox News, agreeing that “any reasonable viewer” would treat Carlson’s claims with “an appropriate amount of skepticism.”