Right before the Congress makes updates to the FISA law and determines whether or not to give retroactive immunity to telecom companies who assisted in the efforts to wiretap Americans without a warrant, there's a lot of information coming out about just how pervasive Bush Administration surveillance has become, and how long they have sought these expansive surveillance powers.
We learned about Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio's contentions that his company was targeted by the NSA
for refusing to participate in the wiretapping program back on Thursday. Today we learn more from the Washington Post
A former Qwest Communications International executive, appealing a conviction for insider trading, has alleged that the government withdrew opportunities for contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars after Qwest refused to participate in an unidentified National Security Agency program that the company thought might be illegal.
Former chief executive Joseph P. Nacchio, convicted in April of 19 counts of insider trading, said the NSA approached Qwest more than six months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to court documents unsealed in Denver this week.
Details about the alleged NSA program have been redacted from the documents, but Nacchio's lawyer said last year that the NSA had approached the company about participating in a warrantless surveillance program to gather information about Americans' phone records.
That's really the key statement. All along we have heard that the warrantless wiretapping program was necessary to protect America from the kind of terrorist attacks that we saw on September 11. But months prior, in February 2001, the NSA was approaching telecoms to get them to cooperate on spying. This is only a month or so after Bush's inauguration. And we know that terrorism was nowhere close to being on their minds at that time. So the question must be asked, why would the NSA need these phone records back in February if the goal was not protection from terrorism.
There are a couple possible answers, based on recent news. First, we recently learned that Senator Richard Shelby
of Alabama sought information from NSA intercepts on a Clinton-era CIA nominee back in the late 90s. This was in George Tenet's book and was virtually ignored until this week:
[Former CIA Director George] Tenet also wrote that, “National Security Agency officials told us that [Republican Senator Richard] Shelby staffers had been asking whether there was derogatory information in their communications intercepts on [Clinton CIA-nominee Anthony] Lake.”
But the NSA refused Shelby’s entreaties, two sources said, and there was no derogatory information in the FBI’s files.
Shelby also demanded, and got, the FBI’s raw files on Lake.
And Washington Democrats wonder why we’re suspicious of unregulated NSA/FBI wiretaps and other surveillance?
There's credible evidence that Republicans were interested in obtaining evidence on political enemies through wiretaps, but they were stymied in the Clinton years. The transfer of power offered an opportunity. And that opportunity has been realized. Today, news comes that a law firm in Vermont which has been representing detainees at Guantanamo has had their phones bugged
A law firm that represents clients at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Afghanistan is warning its Vermont clients that it believes the federal government has been monitoring its phones and computer system.
In a letter sent to clients of the St. Johnsbury firm of Gensburg, Atwell & Broderick, the three attorneys said they can’t guarantee their communications were confidential.
“Although our investigation is not complete, we are quite confident that it is the United States government that has been doing the phone tapping and computer hacking,” said the letter, dated Oct. 2.
The firm claims "hard evidence" that the government is tapping the calls. Verizon is the service provider, and a service technician did find "crossed lines" and disabled security software on all of their computers. Here's the key quote:
Sleigh said that under current federal law, he felt the U.S. Government could argue it was entitled to tap Gensburg’s phone and computer without a warrant.
This is precisely why the upcoming vote on surveillance is so important. Contrary to the stupidity of traditional media pundits
, there are real concerns about spying on Americans without warrants, happening right now, with the legal protections conferred in the awful FISA bill passed back in August. What the Bush Administration seeks is the ability to eavesdrop on any phone call it wants, at any time, even if American citizens are caught up in that net, and they have wanted to do this since before 9/11.
Read what they write about government surveillance and the only argument one finds, literally, is that our Leaders need more power because they want to protect us. The very notion that such power should not be vested without oversight and safeguards is, to them, considered unserious, because we are talking here about officials who are good and responsible and would never abuse their power. That is why Congress in August all but gutted the Fourth Amendment and vested the Bush administration with the power of warrantless eavesdropping with barely a peep of protest from our Beltway elite. To the contrary, when they speak about it at all, they do so by warning Democrats not to impede these "important" protections.
The very real reason to be skeptical of these efforts is the lessons of history, when we saw warrantless surveillance without oversight abused and used to spy on political enemies. Which is why the Congress must hold the line in rejecting so-called "basket warrants," which allow the government to spy without a direct target, and rejecting retroactive immunity for those companies which illegally provided the means for the Bush Administration to spy on Americans. Dick Durbin today said he would not allow
blanket immunity without knowing the scope of the program. What we're starting to learn is enough. There should be no immunity for breaking the law.
Labels: 9-11, basket warrants, domestic spying, George W. Bush, Guantanamo, Joe Nacchio, NSA, Qwest, Richard Shelby, warrantless wiretapping