The U.S. government kept secret records of Americans’ international telephone calls beginning nearly a decade before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, USA Today reported Tuesday.

The paper, quoting current and former officials involved with the operation, said that for more than two decades, the Justice Department and Drug Enforcement Administration kept logs of virtually all calls between the U.S. and as many as 116 countries linked to drug trafficking.

Department of Justice spokesman Patrick Rodenbush told Fox News, "The program was suspended in September 2013 and ultimately terminated.  It has not been active nor searchable since September 2013, and all of the information has been deleted.  The agency is no longer collecting bulk telephony metadata from U.S. service providers."

USA Today said the program provided a blueprint for the NSA surveillance that followed and enabled investigators to track drug cartel networks, their trafficking rings and money handlers.

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