Some recent reporting by the Washington Post reveals some of the hardball tactics that the federal government may have used in support of mass surveillance programs, even preceding the attacks of September 11, 2001. In an article published last Saturday, Ellen Nakashima and Dan Eggen report that Qwest’s Joe Nacchio sought to have the cancellation of government contracts introduced in his trial on insider trading charges. He alleges that he fully expected the contracts to make up for losses the company would otherwise suffer, which would contradict the allegation that he sold his shares knowing of an imminent drop in price. The contracts were canceled in retribution for Qwest refusing to go along with the government’s surveillance demands, he says.
Because so much is cloaked in secrecy, one must speculate about where those machinations are today, but a Statement of Administration Policy (veto threat) issued yesterday laid down a notable marker: Congress must retroactively immunize telecom firms for past law violations in any FISA amendment or the President will veto it.
The common rap on this is that the Bush Administration wants to help out its buddies in the telecom industry. But Joe Nacchio was a buddy – he was chairman of the president’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee – and the administration threw him right under the bus. There is probably more than the standard corruptions of government involved.
My guess is that the telecoms have the Bush administration by the short hairs because they have information about yet more egregious surveillance activities. They’ve probably signaled that if they don’t get immunity in a FISA amendment, they’ll spill the beans and really bring it down on the administration.
This, again, is speculation, but it best explains the administration’s excessive commitment to immunizing the telecom firms that violated the law.