Partners in Crime: NSA, US Justice Department, and Telecom Firms

Washington, DC (SCF) – The so-called USA FREEDOM Act of 2015 is a placebo law designed to placate certain ignorant and uninformed quarters in America concerned about the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of “metadata” on individuals. The USA FREEDOM Act, which is a ridiculous-sounding “backronym” that actually stands for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-collection and Online Monitoring Act”, is a ruse designed to continue ad infinitum NSA’s illegal surveillance.

Essentially, the law does nothing as advertised in its backronym. NSA has cleverly transferred the responsibility for bulk collection of telecommunications data to the telecommunications companies that have long been partners in crime for the NSA’s continuing blatant violation of the U.S. Constitution. In fact, the telecommunications companies have become so involved in NSA’s bulk collection programs, they have been given NSA code names. For example, AT&T is known by the cover term FAIRVIEW. Verizon is known as STORMBREW. Other NSA corporate partners have code names like ARTIFICE, LITHIUM, SERENADE, and STEELKNIGHT.

The USA FREEDOM Act has merely put the imprimatur of legality on the previous and more draconian USA PATRIOT Act, enacted after the 9/11 terrorist attacks by a Congress willing to trade liberty for a false sense of security. The PATRIOT Act opened the door for warrantless eavesdropping of communications by NSA – an illegal operation code named STELLAR WIND.

NSA was angling for warrantless eavesdropping even before 9/11. Thanks to courageous NSA whistleblowers like former Chairman and CEO of Qwest Communications Joseph Nacchio, AT&T engineer Mark Klein, former NSA system architect William Binney, NSA senior executive Thomas Drake, and NSA employees Kirk Wiebe, Russell Tice, and Edward Snowden, it is now known that NSA was bent on massive bulk collection of personal data prior to 9/11. The terrorist event merely served as an opportunity for the NSA to turn its foreign intelligence apparatus on the American people.

Officials of the NSA requested warrantless wiretapping from the chairman of the President’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Council (NSTAC) at a meeting at NSA headquarters on February 27, 2001, seven months before the 9/11 attack. Nacchio turned down NSA’s request and suffered the consequences from an American security state intent on punishing those who refuse to assist in implementation of a total surveillance society. The stunning revelation about NSA’s pre-9/11 demand was recently made by former Qwest Chairman and CEO Nacchio, who also served as President George W. Bush’s NSTAC chairman. Nacchio cited court documents from the government’s retaliatory 2005 case against him for insider trading of Qwest stock.

In response to NSA’s request for his firm’s assistance in surveillance, Nacchio asked the agency representatives if they had a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court warrant. The reply was no. Nacchio then asked them if they had presidential executive authority. The answer was again no. Although Nacchio also served as chairman and CEO of Qwest Communications, his refusal to provide NSA with warrantless wiretapping of Qwest lines was made more significant in his role as NSTAC chairman. Other NSTAC members quickly followed suit in rejecting NSA’s request. They included AT&T, SBC Communications, Sprint, Bell South, Verizon, WorldCom, and others.

The Bush administration retaliated against Nacchio by indicting him for insider trading in 2005, five days before the expiration of the statute of limitations. Rather than try Nacchio in the Southern District of New York, where the alleged trades were made, or the Northern District of New Jersey, where Nacchio resided, the Department of Justice went judge shopping and decided to indict in Denver, the location of Qwest’s corporate headquarters. George Nottingham, the judge chosen, was in a blackmailable position suitable for NSA’s plan to retaliate against Nacchio and make him an example for any other telecommunications company intent on refusing NSA’s dictates.

After trying and sentencing Nacchio to prison, Nottingham resigned after he was accused of obstruction of justice involving his payments to prostitutes and strippers. It was clear that NSA, which operates a large signals intelligence processing center in Aurora, near Denver, was aware that Nottingham had personal problems that could be exploited by Justice Department prosecutors. And that is exactly what happened when Nottingham disallowed Nacchio’s defense team’s evidence of NSA’s attempt to get Nacchio to break the law in 2001 by permitting unlawful intercepts. The NSA wanted to make Nacchio an example for all the other telecommunications CEOs and the gambit succeeded. As a result, the Bush administration discovered that its warrantless program code named STELLAR WIND had the full support of the CEOs who fell in line after 9/11. The Bush administration, backed by the succeeding Obama administration, granted all the telecommunications companies involved in STELLAR WIND with unlimited immunity from future criminal and civil liability involving the illegal surveillance programs carried out by NSA.

It is believed that NSA also requested Nacchio to have Qwest’s European subsidiary hire certain employees for unspecified purposes. As a result of Edward Snowden’s revelations, it is now known that NSA’s and its British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), launched Operation SOCIALIST by implanting engineers inside Belgacom’s switching centers in Brussels to conduct illegal wiretapping.

Nacchio served six years at the federal penitentiary in Schuykill, Pennsylvania. He was released in 2013. Nacchio maintains his innocence and says that he was selected for prosecution by a Justice Department willing to retaliate for his refusal to follow NSA’s orders.

Nacchio also cited court records showing that he was originally lured to NSA in February 2001 to supposedly meet with General Michael Hayden, NSA’s director. Hayden never showed up for the meeting as it was a ruse to get Nacchio into one of NSA’s top secret rooms called a SCIF, oir Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. The meeting at NSA’s Fort Meade, Maryland complex started out with a conversations about GROUNDBREAKER, a new signals intelligence infrastructure, which, along with TRAILBLAZER, were major pet projects of Hayden. Both systems also disregarded the U,S, Constitution and NSA’s own regulations against eavesdropping on U.S. citizens. NSA insiders charged Hayden with his own “insider trading” by awarding lucrative contracts to his favorite firm, SAIC – Science Applications International Corporation — in return for a cushy job after his retirement from the Air Force. Hayden is now a business partner of Michael Chertoff, the former Homeland Security Secretary who has questionable links to Israeli firms that profited handsomely from 9/11.

Nacchio criticized the government’s prosecutorial regime. He said that 98 percent of all federal indictments are plea bargained out. Of the two percent that go to trial, the government has a 95 percent win rate, which is greater than that of Nazi Germany’s government-controlled courts.

Image Source: EFF

Image Source: EFF

Rather than rein in NSA’s bulk collection of data, the USA FREEDOM Act has extended total surveillance operations to a new set of partners. They include, in addition to the telecommunications companies, information service providers like Microsoft and the “FANGs” of NSA’s data collection nets: Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google. In order to protect the bottom lines of these NSA surveillance corporate prostitutes, the agency has designated any information about the eavesdropping relationships to be “ECI”, or “Exceptionally Controlled Information.” However, as seen with the Snowden revelations, illegal surveillance by the U.S. government is only one leak away from disclosure to an increasingly angry world citizenry.

Rather than jail or threaten to jail those who reveal NSA’s insidious operations, it is the past and present directors of NSA, Hayden, his successor General Keith Alexander, and present-director Admiral Mike Rogers, who should be frog-marched off to federal prison for terms that will keep them on ice long enough for them to understand their crimes against America’s democracy.

Written by Wayne MADSEN for the Strategic Culture Foundation.