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Tilting at Windmills

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May 16, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

NSA UPDATE....Verizon denied today that it has provided any call records to the NSA:

One of the most glaring and repeated falsehoods in the media reporting is the assertion that, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Verizon was approached by NSA and entered into an arrangement to provide the NSA with data from its customers' domestic calls.

This is false....Contrary to the media reports, Verizon was not asked by NSA to provide, nor did Verizon provide, customer phone records from any of these businesses, or any call data from those records. None of these companies wireless or wireline provided customer records or call data.

A spokesman followed this up with a flat statement: "We have provided no customer information whatsoever to the NSA."

BellSouth said the same thing yesterday, with their spokesman telling USA Today, "We are not providing any information to the NSA, period." He followed up today by confirming that BellSouth had not provided bulk calling data to "any governmental agency."

This is fascinating, isn't it? Seems like USA Today's sources have some explaining to do. I wonder what's really going on here?

UPDATE: In comments, Jeremy points out that we know (or think we know) that Qwest turned down the NSA's request. But that means the NSA did request customer call data from them. Since it's unlikely that the NSA approached only Qwest, this means that the other companies must be lying or spinning in some way.

One possibility: they allowed the NSA access to their trunk lines (as described here) and the NSA collected the data themselves. This would allow the telcos to say that they hadn't "provided" any "customer records" to the NSA, which would be technically true.

Still, it's very odd. The telco denials are pretty flat, and if they're lying they're doing it clumsily. Why not just stick with "no comment on national security matters" if the reports are true?

Kevin Drum 8:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (76)

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Whaddya think the odds are they were laundered through ChoicePoint first? Match em up to all the other databases *before* they go to the NSA...

Posted by: chaboard on May 16, 2006 at 8:56 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, have you read Josh Marshall's take on this? He thinks the telcos are possibly being a bit disingenuous.

Posted by: Alek Hidell on May 16, 2006 at 8:57 PM | PERMALINK

Is it possible they went through another agency first, thus not to "NSA"?

Posted by: J on May 16, 2006 at 8:59 PM | PERMALINK

Why hasn't the admin flat-out denied the story?

Posted by: Tilli (Mojave Desert) on May 16, 2006 at 9:00 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, why would the NSA only bother going to Qwest?

Is it more likely the NSA just went to Qwest only or that CEOs of certain other telecoms are scared of lawsuits?

Posted by: jeremy on May 16, 2006 at 9:04 PM | PERMALINK

Waiting for the Left to apologize for lying about Bush.

Posted by: Al on May 16, 2006 at 9:05 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think Josh had read the actual statements. They're pretty flat denials.

Now, are they lying? I doubt that, for a variety of reasons. Are they spinning? Maybe. They haven't quite denied giving the data to a third party that was a contractor for the NSA. Still, that's a stretch.

This is genuinely a mystery. Stay tuned.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on May 16, 2006 at 9:05 PM | PERMALINK

Jeremy: Good point.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on May 16, 2006 at 9:06 PM | PERMALINK

...muddied waters, that's what's going on.

Posted by: Darryl Pearce on May 16, 2006 at 9:07 PM | PERMALINK

What are the chances that they just keep bulk data and provide access to it so that when the NSA wants to search it they can do so and extract choice tidbits? Things like which CIA personnel called any of a specific group of journalists or whose cell phone tracked them to the same location as those journalists who also had cell phones.

Posted by: bob on May 16, 2006 at 9:07 PM | PERMALINK

The key word in all those statements seems to be "provide," dontcha think?

Posted by: ejs on May 16, 2006 at 9:07 PM | PERMALINK

Posted by: Al on May 16, 2006 at 9:05 PM

...ha, HA, hA, Ha! Here's some truth:

He rides his bicycle too fast and loses control... just like most everything else he does.

Posted by: Darryl Pearce on May 16, 2006 at 9:08 PM | PERMALINK

Most likely the telcos are lying to avoid multi-billion dollar lawsuits in civil court. If, as was suggested, the data were laundered through an intermediary like ChoicePoint they may think they're going to get away with it. But you know, drug dealers and mobsters launder money all the time but don't always get away with it.

Posted by: Puppethead on May 16, 2006 at 9:09 PM | PERMALINK

Well, of course they might be simply lying, right?

As JMM says, took awhile to respond by these guys. Or, they might have gone through a 3rd party, ala Choicepoint.

And, as is said above, why did Quest confirm the story?

More importantly, look at this Ars Technica story.

Even without this story, it's pretty much guaranteed that the Total Information Program is in full effectiveness, just split into different programs.

Posted by: JC on May 16, 2006 at 9:14 PM | PERMALINK

Chances are, this whole USA Today story smells like a plant. A barium meal to ferret out a leaker.

It makes sense that the NSA never approached Verizon - they don't carry much international traffic (i.e. US-to-foreign calls and vice versa). Neither does Qwest. While both do allow their customers to make/receive international calls, they don't own the international cables, fiber optic lines, or satellites to complete the calls. They must rent the bandwidth from larger, older companies like Sprint, MCI, and AT&T.

With that in mind, I doubt the NSA would waste time with the smaller local companies. The best place to go is the big ones.

Posted by: NSA Mole on May 16, 2006 at 9:15 PM | PERMALINK

You just need to do a little parsing, of the type that isn't allowed at the White House now that honor and dignity have been restored: "We have provided no customer information to the NSA". Since Verizon was first slammed for selling call detail records to data miners and telemarketers (3 years ago IIRC), it has been their position that such information does not belong to the customer but in fact belongs to them. So saying they transferred no "customer information" to the NSA doesn't mean they have transferred no call detail records.


Posted by: Cranky Observer on May 16, 2006 at 9:16 PM | PERMALINK

Seems like USA Today's sources have some explaining to do.

Especially in light of the strong denials issued by the White House . . . oops. Never mind.

Posted by: kc on May 16, 2006 at 9:17 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin and others - don't think for a minute that these telcos might not be spinning. Even though I think my post above is a little closer to the truth, think about this:

These companies, even if they complied with the NSA request without a warrant/subpoena, etc., are probably afraid that they will lose customers if word gets out that they are pimping their data to whomever wants it.

Posted by: NSA Mole on May 16, 2006 at 9:17 PM | PERMALINK

Waiting for the Right to apologize for lying about Kerry.

Posted by: Honest Al on May 16, 2006 at 9:19 PM | PERMALINK

"We have provided no customer information to the NSA".

This may be true. They provided no information about their customers such as name, address, etc.

They just allowed the NSA to tap into their main trunks and the NSA was able to extract the phone numbers and call start/stop times.

The NSA can get the customer data from other parties.

Posted by: MonkeyBoy on May 16, 2006 at 9:21 PM | PERMALINK

"was not asked by the NSA"
--- The NSA demanded call information from one phone number to another

"nor did Verizon provide, customer phone records"
--- Calling patterns devoid of customer information we do not consider to be "customer phone records"

I believe you can successfully parse all of the statements and come up with a scenario where the phone companies did turn over phone records, but still have these statements ring "true."

If the NSA comes in and says hand over all incoming and outgoing phone call records in your database, I am sure they could parse that as not being "customer domestic calls" or "customer domestic records". The "customer" part implies there is a name and address associated with the phone number. If they only gave the NSA phone calling records stripped from personal identification....voila! They are no longer *customer* records or *customer* call data.

Agreement/Contract...??? WTF? This isnt a business deal...They told them to hand it over and they did...no agreement/contract necessary.

I never heard anything about an agreement or contract when various airlines just handed over customer flight data to government agencies a year or so ago. They are probably using that right now along with customer information from Choicepoint or other customer information brokers to tie them into the phone calling database.

Posted by: zAmboni on May 16, 2006 at 9:22 PM | PERMALINK

BellSouth keeps insisting they had no contract, but who would think they would have one?

I think it would be more like The Boss calls someone in and says 'Jenkins, I'd like you to meet somebody, an old friend of mine. He's a general now and I'd like you to listen to what he has to say,' Boss leaves and the general talks to Jenkins for a while and afterward Jenkins is filled with a sense of purpose and patriotism.

I think that's about how it would work.

Posted by: cld on May 16, 2006 at 9:27 PM | PERMALINK

If the telecoms were served with a National Security Letter, according to ABC News The Blotter, the telecoms aren't supposed to ever disclose that they were served with one. So, it seems to me, they'd lie about releasing customer phone records, when questioned, because the lies are sanctioned by the Feds.


....Officials say the FBI makes extensive use of a new provision of the Patriot Act which allows agents to seek information with what are called National Security Letters (NSL). The NSLs are a version of an administrative subpoena and are not signed by a judge. Under the law, a phone company receiving a NSL for phone records must provide them and may not divulge to the customer that the records have been given to the government.

Posted by: pol on May 16, 2006 at 9:30 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, you say:

"Now, are they lying? I doubt that, for a variety of reasons"

Okay then - what are the reasons? At this point, why on earth would they not lie like a hooker telling a john what a great lay he is?

At this point, they are screwed no matter what, and facing HUUGGGE lawsuits - and they can count on the administration's secrecy (witness the response to the EFF lawsuit) to derail any investigation -

so why not lie?

Posted by: JC on May 16, 2006 at 9:31 PM | PERMALINK

I wonder what's really going on here?

Ooooh, I know, I know! The Telcos are lying under threat of deportation to Gitmo!

Jesus, you really are a fucking idiot, Drum.

Posted by: dave on May 16, 2006 at 9:32 PM | PERMALINK

I read all the telco statements, and although they look at first to be blanket denials, they've also obviously been lawyered within millimeters of their verbal lives. I'm left with the strong suspicion that the Bushstapo got everything they needed, in a way that arguably just barely allows the telcos to avoid privacy suits and/or falling afoul of the Telecom Privacy Act.

Look, Clinton's "depends on the meaning of 'is' " was nothing compared to the obfuscation, aggressive interpretation, and outright lying by this bunch. And this NSA-telco thing has been going on for YEARS, according to USAToday. You think there haven't been MAN-CENTURIES of lawyer time put into it?

It stinks. They stink -- the Bushstapo AND the telcos. You know what Cheney thinks of privacy rights, and he's already expressed it to Pat Leahy.

Posted by: bleh on May 16, 2006 at 9:33 PM | PERMALINK

ABC has more on their blog The Blotter that brings this more into focus, I think. It's a follow up to their post on surveillance of reporter's phone records.

Posted by: Mark Thoma on May 16, 2006 at 9:48 PM | PERMALINK

The AP story notes that Verizon and Bell South are not direct providers of long-distance service, whereas Qwest and AT&T certainly are.

It could be that both of their denials are factually accurate. It's certainly possible to have Verizon provide local telephone service and AT&T provide long distance service for the same phone number.

Posted by: jimmy hoffa on May 16, 2006 at 9:48 PM | PERMALINK

what kind of lawyers need 5 days to come up with an exonerating statement: 'we did not provide access to any government agency, nor any third party, of our customer communication records'.

unless, of course, the language necessary to hide/obfuscate the fact that you did provide access requires a committee agreement.

they are lying. bush is lying. alberto gonzales is lying.

Posted by: linda on May 16, 2006 at 9:50 PM | PERMALINK

I'm going to take your update as a response to the various questions in comments, including my own - "Why not just stick with "no comment on national security matters" if the reports are true?"

For me, this doesn't work, because all it does it basically confirm the story - why "no comment" if they aren't doing it? They just confirm they are doing it with "no comment", right? That makes sense to me at least.

And remember - some people - I bet not a lot - but some people are specifically switching carriers, BECAUSE of this. Certainly any who care about privacy are. So there is also an economic incentive to "fudge strongly" - depending on what the meaning of "listen" and "data" is...

and again - why not lie? what's the downside? Your reason above why they wouldn't lie - the earlier quote - doesn't explain the downside to the companies by lying.

Posted by: JC on May 16, 2006 at 9:52 PM | PERMALINK

I would lynch on the 'no customer data' portion, as that's not what the USA Today story reported.

It reported that the NSA asked for call records - as customer records would be names, addresses, etc - and the NSA wanted what lines attached point to point, when.

The customer records can always be gotten later... Or from any telephone directory.

Posted by: Crissa on May 16, 2006 at 9:55 PM | PERMALINK

How guilty telco execs can safely deny cooperating:

Option 1: Data given by telcos to ChoicePoint, which then 'launders' it and re-sells to NSA, RIAA, whoever. True on a technicality.

Option 2: Telco execs stay mum until DOJ assures them that there won't be any investigation. With all the evidence safely classified, no reason to come clean.

Posted by: Nobody in particular on May 16, 2006 at 10:05 PM | PERMALINK

Re multiple comments along the lines of "why not lie?" Lawyers DO NOT LIKE lying, they particularly do not like lying in WRITING, and God help you if you lie in a press release.

The telcos probably care a little bit about maintaining good relations with the Bushstapo, but they care MUCH more about not exposing themselves to financial liabilities. Companies maximize shareholder value. Listen and repeat.

So, if there is any way for them not to lie outright, and instead to issue statements that are just barely, arguably, true enough, that's what they'll do.

Politicians will lie because everybody expects them to, and because if they're caught, they don't really get hurt too badly. But big corporations, who are constrained by statute and are subject to lawsuits, won't lie if there's any way around it.

Posted by: bleh on May 16, 2006 at 10:06 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know about BellSouth, but it is not true that Verizon does not carry long distance traffic or provide international communications. MCI is a division of Verizon, having been acquired last year. Even prior to that, Verizon had authorization to provide inter and intrastate long distance to its customers. This was done both using its own facilities and leased capacity on other carriers. Verizon is also a major player in the international fiber optic market, having ownership stakes in many undersea cables, including FLAG. Verizon also has built and operates telephone and wireless networks in other countries. There really is no longer any distincton between local carriers and long distance carriers.

Posted by: Mike on May 16, 2006 at 10:09 PM | PERMALINK

"We have provided no customer information whatsoever to the NSA"

* have (ie we might do so in future)
* provided (ie they got it themselves, we ddn't do anything)
* customer (ie we provide info about calls through our system of people that are NOT our customers, and Sprint do it for their non-customers and so on, and from this a full picture emerges)
* NSA (ie we gave it to the CIA or FBI or some new organization that Bush hasn't even told the world about yet)

Posted by: Maynard Handley on May 16, 2006 at 10:11 PM | PERMALINK

The simplest answer: Drag them in front of a congressional committee, put them under oath, and ask the question in every conceivable framing.

Posted by: Libby Sosume on May 16, 2006 at 10:16 PM | PERMALINK

I think the story is true, nobody in Congress or the WH is denying it.

Posted by: jerry on May 16, 2006 at 10:17 PM | PERMALINK

Exactly. The statement, "We have provided no CUSTOMER information" does not cover the question of whether the telcoms have in fact provided CALL information to the NSA.

And I would say that this "we didn't give out your mailing address" dodge is a fairly strong indication that the records did, somehow, get to the NSA, "provided" or not.

Posted by: pfd on May 16, 2006 at 10:19 PM | PERMALINK

"I just want to say one thing. I did not 'provide' 'customer records' to that agency (the NSA). These allegations are false."

Posted by: Verizon on May 16, 2006 at 10:26 PM | PERMALINK

The key here may be the negative pregnant style specification of the NSA as the non-recipient of customer data. Professor Balkin has an interesting post about the FBI's increased use of National Security Letters to gain information. The subject of such a request is prohibited by statute (18 U.S.C. 2709(c)) from disclosing that the FBI has sought or obtained access to such information or records.

Posted by: John in Nashville on May 16, 2006 at 10:29 PM | PERMALINK

It took them 3 days to come up with this denial. They're parsing. If it hadn't been true, they would have raised hell when the story first broke.

Posted by: brooklyn on May 16, 2006 at 10:31 PM | PERMALINK

I have heard a number of reports ( whether or not telcos gave records to the NSA) that refer to "selling" records to the NSA.

WTF is that? Was this just a straight up business deal? If the NSA can buy the info even without a NSL, that means that anyone with money and interest can buy it? No?

This seems to be even bigger than the breach of Constitutional protecton that we once enjoyed and reaches into the realm of corporatism. I mean if it doesn't even require ANY fig leaf of national security or even government prorogative - just the next customer - where is ANY safeguard?

Posted by: paul on May 16, 2006 at 10:43 PM | PERMALINK

Additionally all of this is in reference to voice communication. They're not saying anything about computer connections, like this one, or text messaging.

And they're not saying anything about electronic transfers.

What do America's bankers think of having every one of their private communications in the hand of the highest bidder?

Or Germany's bankers, for that matter?

Posted by: cld on May 16, 2006 at 11:01 PM | PERMALINK

This is fascinating, isn't it? Seems like USA Today's sources have some explaining to do. I wonder what's really going on here?

I think I've spotted the problem here, Kevin. So I thought I'd help you out. Did you notice the Byline on the USA Today story? It read:

By Jason Leopold

That explains it all, doesn't it?


Posted by: Al on May 16, 2006 at 11:02 PM | PERMALINK

Get this,


Wisconsin Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is proposing that ISPs be required to record information about Americans' online activities so that police can more easily "conduct criminal investigations." Executives at companies that fail to comply would be fined and imprisoned for up to one year.

In addition, Sensenbrenner's legislation--expected to be announced as early as this week--also would create a federal felony targeted at bloggers, search engines, e-mail service providers and many other Web sites. It's aimed at any site that might have "reason to believe" it facilitates access to child pornography--through hyperlinks or a discussion forum, for instance.

Posted by: cld on May 16, 2006 at 11:18 PM | PERMALINK

But wait that doesn't make any sense that Verizon denied the whole thing. I received this e-mail from a Verizon spokeswoman after I said I'm going to cancel. If they did not cooperate then they could've simply said that. But that's not the impression I get from this message.

This message is in response to your email dated May 14, 2006. You inquired about the National Security Agency (NSA) news article. I will be happy to assist you.

We appreciate that the USA Today article and other reports about the possibility that the NSA is able to analyze local call data records is causing concern. Please be assured that Verizon places the highest value on protecting the privacy of our customers.

Anything to do with the NSA is of course highly classified, so we can not comment on whether or not the news article causing concern is even
accurate. But we can say that, to the extent that we cooperate with government authorities, we are confident that we are complying with all applicable statutes. We appreciate the continuing opportunity to provide you with service.

Thank you for using Verizon. We appreciate your business.

Posted by: DKS on May 16, 2006 at 11:25 PM | PERMALINK

The USA Today article quoted sources who claimed that the NSA database was the largest in the world. If all it contained were digitizd cutomer call records, the data base would be of manageable size. If the database contained all of the traffic through certain NAPs for the last three years, it would damn sure be gigantic.

The AT&T suit contained allegations that the NSA was allowed to tap the main trunk lines using a Narus device. If the telco allows the NSA to tap the trunk, it "provides" no individual customer records--but it gives instead the vast and therefore "anonymized" raw material of *all* its customer records. This vast data flow is what is then "mined."

Under this protocol, by definition, the NSA does not "eavesdrop" on calls as they occur; it doesn't have to. Rather, it saves *everyone's* calls and listens to them only if mining--or John Bolton-- suggests that a listen might be worthwhile. Orwellian, fer sure. . . . .Big Brother is collecting our data. All our data.

So the telcos truthily lie and Bush truthily insists that he does not eavesdrop on ordinary Americans: it all depends on what the meaing of 'eavesdrop" is.

Posted by: petronius on May 16, 2006 at 11:28 PM | PERMALINK

ATT and Bell South have a HUGE merger in the meat grinder right now. They will do and say anything to protect this merger.

Well that explains everything. I feel better now.

Posted by: Sideline on May 16, 2006 at 11:34 PM | PERMALINK

from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/15/AR2006051501638_pf.html

The Cheneys reported owing $529,636 on taxable income of $1,961,157 in 2005, according to their tax return, released last month. The couple's total income in 2005 was $8.8 million, largely as a result of stock options Cheney, 65, received before stepping down as chairman of Houston-based Halliburton Co., the world's largest oil-field services company. . .

And Bono gave George a book about the Bible.

Posted by: cld on May 16, 2006 at 11:37 PM | PERMALINK

KEVIN DRUM: One possibility: they allowed the NSA access to their trunk lines (as described here) and the NSA collected the data themselves. This would allow the telcos to say that they hadn't "provided" any "customer records" to the NSA, which would be technically true.
"Technically" true, eh? You mean in the way it'd be technically true that a bank had not provided robbers with my money if all they did is allow them access to their vault? Or maybe technically true in the sense that the army would not be providing terrorists with bombs if all they did was allow them to access their munitions plants.
BROOKLYN: It took them 3 days to come up with this denial. They're parsing. If it hadn't been true, they would have raised hell when the story first broke.
Try five days. And add to that the lead time prior to the story when they had refused comment to the reporter.

As with democracy and capitalism, there is no longer any way to distinguish between government and corporations.

Posted by: jayarbee on May 16, 2006 at 11:43 PM | PERMALINK

Trent Lott already confirmed this story. The WH hasn't denied it. The Bells took 3 days to carefully deny it.

They are lying.

Posted by: craigie on May 16, 2006 at 11:45 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, one more thing. This isn't so much about what number called the other number. Well, a little but, this growing database is necessary. It's going to be "tweaked" for the 08 elections and whom will be allowed to vote and who's vote will be rejected.

Posted by: Sideline on May 16, 2006 at 11:54 PM | PERMALINK

Excuse my naievete, but where would be the best place to go, with the greatest level of sincerity, to pursue suspicions that one is under surveillance by US un-intelligence agencies (beyond the garguntum irony of a 'solo' FOIA request with the suspected agencies)?

Is there still Judiciary remedy to the extraordinary hubris of the current administration's violation and usurpation of our civil liberties?

Posted by: expat on May 16, 2006 at 11:55 PM | PERMALINK

He rides his bicycle too fast and loses control... just like most everything else he does.

Yeah, tell me about it...

Posted by: laura bush on May 17, 2006 at 12:03 AM | PERMALINK

From the UPDATE:

Jeremy points out that we know (or think we know) that Qwest turned down the NSA's request. But that means the NSA did request customer call data from them. Since it's unlikely that the NSA approached only Qwest, this means that the other companies must be lying or spinning in some way.

Well, why are we so trusting of Qwest? Maybe Verizon and BellSouth have finally figured out how Qwest managed to deny this with a straight face, and are belatedly offering the same spin/reinterpretation.

In other words, Qwest, Verizon, and Bell South have been equally cooperative (or uncooperative), but Qwest has had better initial spin control.

Posted by: Tom Maguire on May 17, 2006 at 12:04 AM | PERMALINK

"We have provided no customer information whatsoever to the NSA."

I don't know what's going on, but if you "neutralize" the phone numbers, call detail records (CDRs) contain no customer information.

They could have provided CDRs for every call made this century and that statement would be true.

Posted by: Strick on May 17, 2006 at 12:05 AM | PERMALINK

Perhaps Verizon would quit looking at my phone bill as it is overdue.

Posted by: Matt on May 17, 2006 at 12:17 AM | PERMALINK

Hey, if someone says 'we made that shit up to bash Bush'...all is forgiven.

Moonbat logic is:

1. NSA took data on every American

2. Its anti-Bush and must be true

3. If anyone denies it - they've been intimidated by Bush's AmeriKKKa

4. Or worse Bush stole the data, just like Nixon

5. It can't be false. Even if it is, the MSM will just pretend they never meant it.

Posted by: McA on May 17, 2006 at 12:27 AM | PERMALINK

cranky way up in the thread has it right: It's a lie. They're saying they didn't give up "customer" records because they ridiculously maintain that "call" records are not "customer" records. Or some crap like that.

But this succeeds in a way: all the major news media report that the telcos have DENIED IT.

Posted by: Arminius on May 17, 2006 at 12:27 AM | PERMALINK

This is laughable...and I am surprised Kevin even bought into it...

customer phone records from any of these businesses, or any call data from those records.

In other words, we provided all of the traffic, but didn't provide any immediately identifiable info with it (other than that tool called Google, but we will save that for another day). I haven't dug deep, but I would bet this language has more to do with the Section 222 than anything else....

The concern for the customer was also based on law:
Under Section 222 of the Communications Act, first
passed in 1934, telephone companies are prohibited
from giving out information regarding their customers'
calling habits: whom a person calls, how often and what
routes those calls take to reach their final destination.
Inbound calls, as well as wireless calls, also are

I see nothing about this that is a flat denial. No one ever said they were turning over customer's bills. USA Today said they look at call traffic based on the telcos illegal actions, and then pick someone's line to tap without getting a warrant. You know, the kind of thing that could bankrupt a company if it were not a monopoly.

When Verizon says, "We do not provide data, records, or information to the NSA with a specific, detailed warrant", I will be satisfied. Until then, this is all an effort to boost their stock price.

It will all come out at the trial. This short term kabuki dance with the Administration taking the lead is fooling no one.

Posted by: justmy2 on May 17, 2006 at 12:35 AM | PERMALINK

A little irony. We sit here condemning that man to eternal damnation, many of us, me included, just barely within the law in describing the acts of merciless torture that man should go through. Here, publicly, right on Kevin's blog.

Why would he go to the phone company? Just intercept out e mail address, and flood us with lottery opportunities until we respond, and, bingo, they have us.

Posted by: Matt on May 17, 2006 at 12:41 AM | PERMALINK

The simplest answer: Drag them in front of a congressional committee, put them under oath, and ask the question in every conceivable framing.

Yeah, like when Congress asked those tobacco executives about the addictive quality of nicotine. In a more honest business climate, a congressional investigation might make sense. But in the corrupt and unethical business world that has evolved over the years, not to mention the present GOP Congress sucking at the communications industry teat, they'd be able to lie through their teeth with impunity.

Posted by: R. Porrofatto on May 17, 2006 at 12:59 AM | PERMALINK

one explanation (by emptywheel):

Posted by: Lee on May 17, 2006 at 1:09 AM | PERMALINK

ONE thing we have learned from the Bush adminstration is that there are benefits to lying all the way up to and beyond the indictment.

If the whole adminstration hadn't lied blatantly about Valerie Plame, Bush may not have even gotten re-elected. Having delayed and continuing to delay, it seems to me that its harming them less than it would if it wasn't so drawn out.

I beleive this is the great lesson from the Bush adminstration to all Americans: lie blatantly until there is a dire punishment.

I dont see any punishment on the horizon for these telcoms for lying. By lying now blatantly and lettting the truth trickle out, at worst, in congress and courts over years rather than flood, thay avoid intense customer and politcal fall-out.

There is no reason to tell the truth because there is no accountability, period.

Posted by: ChetBob on May 17, 2006 at 1:16 AM | PERMALINK


They're lying. They know that since the lawsuits were shut down for "security reasons" no one is going to be able to weedle out officially the "how" part of the NSA data grab. Therefore they feel like they can boldly claim complete innocence because noone will be able to "prove" otherwise. The head of Verizon was and is a huge Bush supporter and has every incentive personally to put up a good show. Especially give the tiering issues that backbone providers want passed through congress. This is all SOP for the administration. Business tied to big donors, tied to government contracts. MZM is a pattern of larger things.

The reality is that the NSA has and is still getting all the data, and the big mouth pieces are still fully engaged in supporting it. We know about the details via whistleblowers, and we will learn more form whistleblowers. This ship is sunk, as Friedman and Hinderocket and others jump to the lifeboats. Or parachute out as Steven Colbert put it...

Posted by: patience on May 17, 2006 at 1:45 AM | PERMALINK

Petronus has the outline of the scope of the program correct. Everything gets sucked down and stored. Who does what with it afterward. Big problems.

The philosophical issue will be if a human being is on the line when the call is recorded is it considered listening. (Tree falls in the forest)
What will be needed is ultimately are guarantees of anonyminity in the digital realm which will require solutions from the IETF as much as from Congress.

The reality is that the solutions atart with the provisions within European data harboring as an initial framework. But this solution only works as much as you can trust the implementors and oversight, which is why we have the current problems. There are no angels in government and there are certainly no angels who are Bush appointees.

You keep digging you will find the shit they have pulled.

Posted by: patience on May 17, 2006 at 1:56 AM | PERMALINK

Tee telco statements are carefullly-parsed lawyer speak. What Actally happened, I surmise, is that the Telcos gave the NSA access to their main switches - and NSA just vaccuumed up all the call records FROM THE SWITCHES. (reference the EFF lawsuit vs AT&T, which the Bushies are fighting to quash. )

So, did the Telcos "give the government customer information?" well, no, they didn't GIVE them our call records - they just let them come in and TAKE THEM.

And they didn't GIVE them the names attached to those phone numbers and calls - as an earlier poster stated, the NSA would have to use an arcane, little-known program called GOOGLE to actually find who owned those numbers.

It's Telco bulshit, covering for Bush. And of course. our national press is as gullible and uniformed as ever, swallowing it whole.

Posted by: topaz on May 17, 2006 at 3:07 AM | PERMALINK

They can lie all they want, since the program is classified and that means that, absent a leak, no one can get to the information or people that would confirm their involvement.

The phone companies are hiding behind lies and national security claims to cloak their illegal activities just like the Bush administration.

And I'm sure their lies are just like many of Bush's, relying on very narrow and unusual definitions of the terms being used to describe their "non-involvement", so in at least one sense the statements are literally true, but only if one accepts the very narrow and unusual definitions being used.

Posted by: Advocate for God on May 17, 2006 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

I would just ask Verizon and BellSouth if the NSA is in posession of information about their customers' phone calls. I think that would be harder to duck.

Posted by: sc on May 17, 2006 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

We now have our answer: on May 5th, Bush signed an Executive Order overriding Sarbannes-Oxley and all existing SEC regulations, allowing telecommunications providers to tell deliberate lies with no legal consequences.


Posted by: Cranky Observer on May 17, 2006 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

to follow-up what Cranky said, this is the power Bush just gave to Negroponte:

    With respect to matters concerning the national security of the United States, no duty or liability under paragraph (2) of this subsection shall be imposed upon any person acting in cooperation with the head of any Federal department or agency responsible for such matters if such act in cooperation with such head of a department or agency was done upon the specific, written directive of the head of such department or agency pursuant to Presidential authority to issue such directives. Each directive issued under this paragraph shall set forth the specific facts and circumstances with respect to which the provisions of this paragraph are to be invoked. Each such directive shall, unless renewed in writing, expire one year after the date of issuance.

Securities Exchange Act of 1934, sec 13(b)(3)(a)

note that this power was already available to the President. he has just delegated it to the Director of National Intelligence. we don't know what the DNI did with that power, or if Bush has delegated that power to anyone else.

regardless, it's pretty clear that we don't have to believe the telco's on anything related to National Security , any longer.

Posted by: cleek on May 17, 2006 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

I called yesterday to cancel a planned install of Verizon's TV-over-Fiber. When asked why, I said because of the NSA/call record thing. In his response, the call center person said 'we had to', 'it's classified,' 'all the phone companies will have to do it'.

I think it's an interesting data-point.

Posted by: Rich Salz on May 17, 2006 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

Text of the email AT&T sent me. The don't deny turning over information, but do deny they did so without "legal authorization." My follow up email asking them to clarify what that meant has so far gone unanswered:

Thank you for your recent email.

We understand your concern and want to stress that we vigorously protect our customers' privacy.

There has been a lot of speculation in the news media. The fact is, AT&T does not allow wiretapping without a court order nor has it otherwise given customer information to law enforcement authorities or government agencies without legal authorization.

We have an obligation to assist law enforcement and other government agencies responsible for protecting the public welfare, whether it be an individual or the security interests of the entire nation.

We prize the trust our customers place in us. If and when AT&T is asked by government agencies for help, we do so strictly within the law and under the most stringent conditions.
Beyond that, we can't comment on matters of national security. This is a national security issue and needs to be addressed on a national level.

We do appreciate hearing from you and we value your business.

Thank you for choosing the new AT&T - the culmination of AT&T's passion to invent and SBC's drive to deliver. We appreciate your business and continued loyalty. Check out the new AT&T at www.att.com.

For additional information, click on the links below, or cut and paste the links into your browser (see safety note below):

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