Qwest CEO Not Alone in Alleging NSA Started Domestic Phone Record Program 7 Months Before 9/11
By Ryan Singel EmailOctober 12, 2007 | 4:23:55 PMCategories: NSA, Surveillance
Startling statements from former Qwest CEO Joseph Nacchio's defense documents alleging the National Security Agency began building a massive call records database seven months before 9/11 aren't the only accusations that the controversial program predated the attacks of 9/11.
According to court documents unveiled this week, former Qwest CEO Joseph Nacchio clearly wanted to argue in court that the NSA retaliated against his company after he turned down a NSA request on February 27, 2001 that he thought was illegal. Nacchio's attorney issued a carefully worded statement in 2006, saying that Nacchio had turned down the NSA's repeated requests for customer call records. The statement says that Nacchio was asked for the records in the fall of 2001, but doesn't say he was "first asked" then.
And in May 2006, a lawsuit filed against Verizon for allegedly turning over call records to the NSA alleged that AT&T began building a spying facility for the NSA just days after President Bush was inaugurated. That lawsuit is one of 50 that were consolidated and moved to a San Francisco federal district court, where the suits sit in limbo waiting for the 9th Circuit Appeals court to decide whether the suits can proceed without endangering national security.
According the allegations in the suit (.pdf):
The project was described in the ATT sales division documents as calling for the construction of a facility to store and retain data gathered by the NSA from its domestic and foreign intelligence operations but was to be in actuality a duplicate ATT Network Operations Center for the use and possession of the NSA that would give the NSA direct, unlimited, unrestricted and unfettered access to all call information and internet and digital traffic on ATTÌs long distance network. [...]
The NSA program was initially conceived at least one year prior to 2001 but had been called off; it was reinstated within 11 days of the entry into office of defendant George W. Bush.
An ATT Solutions logbook reviewed by counsel confirms the Pioneer-Groundbreaker project start date of February 1, 2001.
The allegations in that case come from unnamed AT&T insiders, who have never stepped forward or provided any documentation to the courts. But Carl Mayer, one of the attorneys in the case, stands by the allegations in the lawsuit.
"All we can say is, we told you so," Mayer told THREAT LEVEL.
Mayer says the issue of when the call records program started - a program that unlike the admitted warrantless wiretapping, the administration has never confirmed nor denied - should play a role in the upcoming confirmation hearings of Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey.
Mukasey will have to "come clean on when this program started," Mayer said. "The entire rationale was that it was necessitated by 9/11."
All of the cases pending against the nation's telecoms for allegedly violating the nation's surveillance and privacy laws could be mooted if Congress gives immunity to the companies, as the Administration and the telcos powerful lobbyists are arguing for.
Immunity isn't what Mayer wants.
"The real obligation is upon the Democrats to demand turnover of these documents," ayer said.
But Mayer and Nacchio may not even be the only two arguing that the NSA started a program of collecting Americans' phone records before 9/11.
In a January 2006 Slate article that came out before the USA Today totally blew open the call records story in May 2006, Tim Naftali and THREAT LEVEL pal Shane Harris reported:
A former telecom executive told us that efforts to obtain call details go back to early 2001, predating the 9/11 attacks and the president's now celebrated secret executive order. The source, who asked not to be identified so as not to out his former company, reports that the NSA approached U.S. carriers and asked for their cooperation in a "data-mining" operation, which might eventually cull "millions" of individual calls and emails.
So, the question is was Nacchio the one talking to Harris and Natfali? Or was it an executive from another company?
The evidence remains inconclusive, but one would think that before telecoms get immunity for allegedly helping the government after 9/11 out of patriotism, Congress should see if the companies began helping out prior to 9/11 with their eyes not on the flag, but on the secret dollars that the NSA could add to their bottom lines.