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Even worse than we imagined: AT&T contract for NSA to surveill all internet traffic, foreign and domestic, started before 9/11

That's all Internet traffic, foreign and domestic, data and voice. And the decision to do this was taken, not because of 9/11, but as soon as Bush took office. As was the decision to ignore the rule of law. So much for the idea that the extremely benevolent and trustworthy Bush administration was reacting to 9/11, and just wants "surgical" surveillance* to keep us safe from terrorists, eh? Could this program be Spencer Ackerman's "Project X"?

Anyhow, it's late, so I can't do this story justice, but according to Wired:

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 said.

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."

Well, yes, Tooliani operative Mukasey should indeed be asked about all this. Hey, here's an idea: Leader Nance could write Mukasey a Sternly Worded Letter!

And this does explain why the telcos are lobbying so hard for retroactive immunity, doesn't it?

And now that we can be totally sure that Iraq was for oil--even in the absence of the suppressed records of the Cheney energy task force--and we know that massive warrantless surveillance was the order of the day immediately after Bush took office, it looks like what "changed" after 9/11 wasn't "everything," but just the catapult Bush used for the propaganda. Eh?

NOTE * The trad press coverage of McConnell's lying on "surgical" was even more bogus than usual.

UPDATE Here's WaPo's Ellen Nakashima and Dan Eggen. They focus on the court filings from which the Wired story above is derived. They get the pre-9/11 nature of the program:

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 the Pentagon. The Sept. 11 attacks have been cited by the government as the main impetus for its warrantless surveillance efforts.

Right. All this crap about protecting the American people was and is just propaganda; 9/11 was just the icing on the cake for the criminal Bush regime. They were secretly working to destroy the Fourth Amendment, and the Constitution from the start--right after they seized power in Bush v. Gore. Tell me again why we live under a legitimate government?

Now, Eggen and Nakashima are framing this in terms of "phone records," not "all call information and internet and digital traffic", as Wired has it:

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. At the time, Nacchio was chairman of the president's National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee.

But they do have the money quote:

"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."

A "disinclination." Nice. So Nacchio turned down the request. The consequences: The so-called Justice Department sued him for insider trading--Nacchio had sold his stock at a high on the expectation that the contract would go through because who would have fucking thought the request would be illegal. (This is America!) And, cleverly, the so-called Justice Department then gamed the system of security clearances and got the judge to suppress any defense based on the request because of the "state secrets" privilege.*

So, Nacchio wasn't a total, total greedhead. And all the other telco CEOs were, apparently. What a re-assuring portrait of the integrity and benign intentions of our ruling class.

And it looks like the multiple nature of the surveillance programs is causing a lot of confusion. "Call records" implies only voice but, as Wired says (and they've got the technical expertise) what we have long believed: that it's voice and data, with domestic data the real prize; just like 9/11, the foreign intelligence aspect is just a cover for the real goal. We've always thought that ratfucking was the important part, but now I'm thinking that espionage for favored corporations could also play a role. Marcy has an excellent timeline.

UPDATE Oddly, or not, The Newspaper of Record (not!) has no story on this. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Not even anything ripped from the wires.

UPDATE Looking through our total postings on NSA surveillance, the broad outlines of the program have been clear from the beginning. We knew from December 2005 that the program was about data and voice, though the trad press kept focusing on the "wiretap" (voice only) aspect. And we knew from July 2006 (Bloomberg) that a "call monitoring" program was in place before 9/11. What we didn't put together was: (1) the sheer scope of the program: all voice, all data; (2) that such a program was fully specified and ready for contract before 9/11; (3) that the Bush administrations breathtaking disregard for the rule of law was also in place before 9/11.

I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords....

UPDATE EmptyWheel on Nacchio:

Note to the Senate: this guy says he's in jail because he refused to break the law. Yet you want to let AT&T off scot-free.

And for those of you who want to ask Jello Jay Rockefeller why AT&T should have immunity for breaking the law while Joseph Nacchio rots in jail, indirectly, because he refused to break the law, [here's] the list of phone numbers.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Chairman — (202) 224-6472

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) — (202) 224-3841

Sen. John Warner (R-VA) — (202) 224-2023

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) — (202) 224-5244

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) — (202) 224-4224

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) — (202) 224-5623

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) — (202) 224-4654

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) — (202) 224-5344

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) — (202) 224-5274

They want immunity because they know they're guilty. Say, I wonder who the various corporate counsels to Verizon and so forth are? They're guilty too, well-paid though they are.

UPDATE Kagro X makes an excellent point at Big Orange:

But it's not just that. If Qwest's competitors were already abetting this bloodless(?) coup before 9/11, then the "administration's" domestic spying not only has little if anything to do with response to terrorism, but it also objectively failed to prevent 9/11.

Yep. Mr. Preznit, you've uncovered your ass, now.

NOTE * One of the distinguishing features of the operations of the criminal Bush regime, as opposed to the criminal Nixon regime, is that the judicial system has been so corrupted that the likelihood of a John Sirica is very low.

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Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

caller info led to the decision that Qwest couldn't participate in a couple of $100 million federal contracts -- a decision announced in July, AFTER Qwest's CEO had sold stock in March and April. Necchio recently got a six-year sentence for insider trading because, allegedly, he should've known the stock was overvalued.

There's more at Dkos.

We can admit that we're killers ... but we're not going to kill today. That's all it takes! Knowing that we're not going to kill today! ~ Captain James T. Kirk, Stardate 3193.0

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

Yea, the Qwest filings mentioned Neccio refused to do something he thought was illegal in Jan of 01. Since 9/11 Bush says he's had to catapult the propaganda.... I'm thinking that catapult is now a trebouchet, he's got tons more propaganda to throw at us.

The criminal bastids.

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on


We can admit that we're killers ... but we're not going to kill today. That's all it takes! Knowing that we're not going to kill today! ~ Captain James T. Kirk, Stardate 3193.0

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

Leader Nance could write Mukasey a Sternly Worded Letter!

perhaps she will intimidate him with a sternly arranged, yet lovely, fruit platter.


Submitted by lambert on

I've always thought this Fort Meade incident was odd:

[W]hen the administration had scrambled jets to intercept a fucking Cessnalight plane (back, Bush wasn't (we are told) informed. However, as a Kossack dug up, Bush was riding his bike in Patuxent Park right next to Fort Mead, the NSA's home. So, was Bush making a run for Unka Karl, picking up the latest hot stuff on Harry Reid? (Note that standard practice with NSA intercepts is to hand carry them to be read and not retained. This makes some sort of meet necessary. Hence Bush's bike ride.)

So, were "innovating" NSA employees helping Bush avoid "bureaucratic limitations"? Inquiring minds want to know...

We. Are. Going. To. Die. We must restore hope in the world. We must bring forth a new way of living that can sustain the world. Or else it is not just us who will die but everyone. What have we got to lose? Go forth and Fight!—Xan

Submitted by lambert on

I like it that there is only one degree of separation between "telcos" and "telos."

Yes, I vaguely remember Discipline and Punish from back in the day; that's why we have a "Panopticon" category.

The thing I remember, or, more probably, mis-remember, is the idea that in the confessional, the priests kept pressing for more and more detail, more and more categorization, of sexual acts, so that they could "forgive" them--thereby, in fact, perpetuating a system where more and more "needed" to be confessed. The comparison between that and the demand for more and more detail on what is torture and what is not seems telling.

We. Are. Going. To. Die. We must restore hope in the world. We must bring forth a new way of living that can sustain the world. Or else it is not just us who will die but everyone. What have we got to lose? Go forth and Fight!—Xan

Woody--Tokin Librul's picture
Submitted by Woody--Tokin Librul on

in the last books of his ouvre, starting, and especially with "the Use of Pleasure,"'s been a while for me too since i read the works, probably approaching 20 years.
Me? A Quick Study, But A Slow Learner

Woody--Tokin Librul's picture
Submitted by Woody--Tokin Librul on

or, more probably, mis-remember, is the idea that in the confessional, the priests kept pressing for more and more detail..."

an old joke: It's saturday at St Pat's, and the lines of confessors are moving along when Paddy O'Rourke enters the booth. "Bless me Father, for I have sinned. Sincemy last confession, i have lied, stolen and cheated on my wife..."
"Just a minute, me lad," sez the good father, "but for absolution y'must name your correspondent."
"Ah, no, fither, I canna betray the name."
"Then I canna shreve you of your sins, my son."
"Was it may be..." and Paddy makes to leave when the p[riest offers: "I hate that you should depart unshriven my son. I'll tell you what: you won't name your sources for sin, but you could simply agree or disagree if i mention the correct names?"
Paddy was amenable, and the priest asked: Was it Mary McKenna, then?" But Paddy was mute. "Well, was it Bridget O'Sullivan?" But Paddy was still mute. "Then was it Moira O'Connor?" and still Paddy was mute,
So the priest, in exasperation, sends Paddy forth with his sins still unforgiven. Exiting the confessional, Paddy sees his buddy Mick Naughton waiting, and joins him in the pews. Mick asks, "Well Paddy, did the priest give you a lot of penance?"
And Paddy sez: "No, Mick, but he give me two new names..."
Me? A Quick Study, But A Slow Learner

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

Via the Burlington VT Free Press:

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 attorney for Robert Gensburg, David Sleigh of St. Johnsbury, said Thursday it could turn out there is an innocent, non-governmental reason for the problems with the telephone and the firm’s office computer system.

“Bob is an incredibly cautious and deliberate guy,” Sleigh said. “We don’t want to make allegations that are not supportable. We do have hard evidence that his phone was compromised and his computer was comprised.”

U.S. Attorney Thomas D. Anderson, the federal government’s top law enforcement official in Vermont, did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment Thursday. Verizon has consistently refused to comment on whether it is or is not involved with national security issues, spokeswoman Beth Fastiggi said Thursday.

A Verizon Vermont technician who investigated problems with Gensburg’s phone last month found crossed lines, but didn’t explain what caused the problem, Sleigh said. A forensic examination of Gensburg’s computer found an application that disabled all security software and would have given someone access to all information on the computer, Sleigh said. [speculation on "random keylogger viruses" snipped]

Gensburg represents a client in Afghanistan as well as one of the prisoners held by the United States in Guantanamo Bay.

Bolding added.

Addendum: This was originally posted in a dKos diary, then at Atrios' where i picked it up. Further down the thread there after the B-FP story had time to be read was posted the following:

res ipsa loquitur | Homepage | 10.13.07 - 6:24 pm | # [X]

GravatarIf they are tapping some VT firm repping GITMO Ds they are tapping other firms repping GITMO Ds.

I hope they were stupid enough to tap one of the biggies, beause those people could seriously fuck BushCo's shit up.

Not to argue with the estimable Res Ipsa, who is I believe a lawyer herself in NYC, but a proper following of the Republican playbook would indeed be to do these sort of things against small firms out in the sticks as it were, rather than big names in NY or DC or LA.

The assumption would be that the smaller outfits would have weaker defenses--both physically as in software and mentally as in expectations of such an assault-- and be less likely to detect the taps. Just my guess anyway.

Perhaps I don't fully understand the argument here, but Lambert seems to be jumping to conclusions. They may turn out to be the right conclusions, but I don't think we have the evidence yet to make the jump.

The reports I've seen on Nacchio's refusal to help the NSA point to phone records (WaPo), not the content of phone calls. An earlier report said that Nacchio "balked at helping the NSA track phone calling patterns that may have indicated terrorist organizational activities."

It could be that as early as Feb. 2001 the NSA was eavesdropping on phone calls. But I see no evidence to show that it was doing more than data-mining of pen-register kind of info. Illegal, to be sure, but different from listening to phone calls.

The ATT special NSA room in SF would have given access to internet traffic as well as phone traffic, and I wouldn't be surprised to learn that NSA did data-mine the former as well as the latter. But, again, is there any evidence or testimony to show that it did scoop up internet traffic?

I've seen none so far. Nacchio or his lawyers would have had good reason to mention internet traffic, if that is what the NSA had been after from Qwest. So far, they appear to be talking about only phone records.

I don't doubt that there is a thread that links the pre- and the post 9/11 warrantless programs. But it's necessary to be as careful as possible about what we know and what we're speculating.

And I see from the Wired story that Slate had an article in Jan. 2006 which described the pre-9/11 program as data-mining, not eavesdropping:

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.


Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

Cancel your phone service. Mankind survived for thousands of years without it.

You can survive for 30 days without it.


Can ATT and the other telecom SPIES survive without customers for 30 days?

Bet not!