NY Times: NSA Wanted Telecoms' Help With Data-Mining in Drug Cases
The New York Times has some new and very disturbing revelations in the NSA warrantless wiretapping controversy. The news may explain why the telecoms are fighting so hard for retroactivity immunity in the planned FISA law revision.
To detect narcotics trafficking, for example, the government has been collecting the phone records of thousands of Americans and others inside the United States who call people in Latin America, according to several government officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the program remains classified. But in 2004, one major phone carrier balked at turning over its customers’ records. Worried about possible privacy violations or public relations problems, company executives declined to help the operation, which has not been previously disclosed.
In a separate N.S.A. project, executives at a Denver phone carrier, Qwest, refused in early 2001 to give the agency access to their most localized communications switches, which primarily carry domestic calls, according to people aware of the request, which has not been previously reported. They say the arrangement could have permitted neighborhood-by-neighborhood surveillance of phone traffic without a court order, which alarmed them.
In the drug-trafficking operation, the N.S.A. has been helping the Drug Enforcement Administration in collecting the phone records showing patterns of calls between the United States, Latin America and other drug-producing regions. The program dates to the 1990s, according to several government officials, but it appears to have expanded in recent years.
Officials say the government has not listened to the communications, but has instead used phone numbers and e-mail addresses to analyze links between people in the United States and overseas. Senior Justice Department officials in the Bush and Clinton administrations signed off on the operation, which uses broad administrative subpoenas but does not require court approval to demand the records.
As to Qwest,
In a separate program, N.S.A. officials met with the Qwest executives in February 2001 and asked for more access to their phone system for surveillance operations, according to people familiar with the episode. The company declined, expressing concerns that the request was illegal without a court order.
While Qwest’s refusal was disclosed two months ago in court papers, the details of the N.S.A.’s request were not. The agency, those knowledgeable about the incident said, wanted to install monitoring equipment on Qwest’s “Class 5” switching facilities, which transmit the most localized calls. Limited international traffic also passes through the switches.
I don't believe the Government. This isn't the only effort the Government has made to gather information on Latin Americans. Back in 2003, it was reported that the Government was using ChoicePoint to data mine their information for use in investigations.
In late 2001, the Justice Department signed the first of several contracts with ChoicePoint, a company that collects biographical information and sells it to employers and insurance companies for resume checking and identity verification. Other clients are media organizations, including the Chicago Tribune.
U.S. officials say the purpose of the contract was national security. They contend that the information will bring quicker identity verification, such as when officials are trying to uncover a smuggler among a group of illegal immigrants, as well as enhance their ability to detect suspicious patterns of behavior that could lead to the discovery of terrorist cells.
More on that here.
Today's Times' disclosures are big news in light of Monday's debate and vote on whether to grant retroactive immunity to the telecoms in the proposed revision of FISA. Shouldn't those telecoms that broke the law and gave up customer information or access to their calls or records without a court order be held accountable?
The National Security Agency and other government agencies retaliated against Qwest because the Denver telco refused to go along with a phone spying program, documents released Wednesday suggest.
The documents indicate that likely would have been at the heart of former CEO Joe Nacchio's so-called "classified information" defense at his insider trading trial, had he been allowed to present it.
The secret contracts - worth hundreds of millions of dollars - made Nacchio optimistic about Qwest's future, even as his staff was warning him the company might not make its numbers....
Nacchio was prevented from making this argument to the jury because the Judge had deemed it irrelevant -- the Court of Appeals will have to decide if the Judge was correct.
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