In a "secret briefing" to Congress the NSA confirmed that their analysts can listen to phone calls without a warrant and totally at their individual discretion. So . . . not just metadata. You know things have gotten weird because at this point it's not even that surprising.
The ability to review domestic calls at will stems from an interpretation of federal surveillance law that probably also extends to accessing and reading texts, IMs and e-mails. There have been other indications that the NSA has access to all of our domestic and international calls, and there have been reports on how they organise all that gabbing in case they ever want to go back and check something out. In 2009 the New York Times ran a story indicating that the NSA was engaging in "overcollection," but this is the first time the NSA is detailing what's going on.
The news validates some of Edward Snowden's claims about operations within the NSA. There was also a House Intelligence meeting in 2007 where the then-Director of National Intelligence, Michael McConnell, discussed the fact that the NSA was compiling a database of phone calls and communications accessible by NSA employees. Today McConnell is the vice chairman of Booz Allen Hamilton. Because of course.
Congressman Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat from New York who serves on the House Judiciary committee, spoke about the unfettered access described in the recent clandestine meeting. "I was rather startled," he said. Definitely one way of putting it. [CNET]