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Saturday, October 13, 2007

NSA sought warrantless wiretaps PRE-9/11


According to Qwest Communications International chief executive Joseph Nacchio, the US government withdrew a $200 million contract after his company refused to participate in an unidentified National Security Agency program that the company’s top lawyer said was illegal.

Nacchio’s account, which places the NSA proposal at a meeting on Feb. 27, 2001, suggests that the Bush administration was seeking to enlist telecommunications firms in programs without court oversight before the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. As the Sept. 11 attacks were cited by the government as the main impetus for its warrantless surveillance efforts, Nacchio's words effectively catch the Bush administration in a lie.

These allegations could affect the debate on Capitol Hill over whether Qwest and other telecoms should be given legal immunity for disclosing customers’ phone records to the government after the Sept. 11 attacks, even if they did not have court authorization for doing so.

In May 2006, USA Today reported that the NSA had been secretly collecting the phone-call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by major telecom firms. Qwest, it reported, declined to participate because of fears that the program lacked legal standing.

In a statement released after the story was published, Nacchio attorney Herbert Stern said that in fall 2001, Qwest was approached to give the government access to the private phone records of Qwest customers.

“Mr. Nacchio made inquiry as to whether a warrant or other legal process had been secured in support of that request,” Stern said. “When he learned that no such authority had been granted and that there was a disinclination on the part of the authorities to use any legal process, including the Special Court which had been established to handle such matters, Mr. Nacchio concluded that these requests violated the privacy requirements of the Telecommunications Act.”

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