August 23, 2007 | By Derek Slater

Spy Chief Admits Telcos Collaborated With NSA Spying

In a lengthy and revealing interview, the Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell admitted that telecommunications companies collaborated with the NSA's massive domestic spying.

Of course, it's long been an open secret that the government is engaging in dragnet surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans and has backdoor access to telecommunications providers' networks and records databases. The overwhelming evidence includes statements from fully briefed members of Congress, whistleblower evidence from a former AT&T employee, and numerous newspaper reports. Alongside our lawsuit against AT&T, numerous other lawsuits have been brought against various carriers, including Verizon and MCI.

Yet the government has tried to sweep away these allegations as mere speculation, and has desperately tried to stop lawsuits against the the carriers by claiming that "whether any particular company (or type of company) is assisting the Government" is a "state secret." McConnell's sworn declaration in one customer lawsuit against Verizon states that: "Plaintiffs in these cases put directly at issue ... whether or not it has done so with the secret help of a private entity. The disclosure of any information that would tend to confirm or deny these allegations ... would cause exceptionally grave harm to the national security."

Now McConnell has conceded the truth: "[U]nder the president's program, the terrorist surveillance program, the private sector had assisted us. Because if you're going to get access you've got to have a partner and they were being sued."

This admission is critical. On the government's theory, the truth that is as plain as the nose on your face remains secret until the private sectors' assistance has been officially acknowledged by the Administration. With McConnell's statement, now the Administration itself has provided that acknowledgment. As we have argued in our case, the courts are well equipped to protect state secrets while determining whether the spying is illegal, and the evidence already on the record is sufficient to move forward with the case, but McConnell's statement should absolutely settle the question.

In the wake of these admissions by McConnell, the government is poised to repeat its claims that the illegal telco assistance is a secret. Next Thursday, government lawyers will argue their motion to dismiss lawsuits against Verizon in front of U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker -- a motion to dismiss that is, again, based on the state secrets privilege.

Even though McConnell's candid interview shines a little more light on the illegal spying, much more needs to be made public about this still-shadowy program. In fact, it should not have taken so long for the Administration to start to openly discuss the program. Congress has a duty to check the President's power and should have already launched vigorous investigations into the NSA's activities. Yet nearly six years since the spying program first began and nearly two years since it was publicly revealed, Congress still has yet to do its job. Instead, it has rolled over to the Administration's requests for even more power to invade ordinary Americans' privacy.

This cannot stand; Americans deserve to know the truth about how their rights have been violated and to have those rights restored. Yesterday, Sen. Patrick Leahy threatened contempt proceedings if the Administration does not comply with subpoenas for information about the NSA spying, and now Congress must follow through and pry answers out of the Administration. Moreover, along with repealing its recent expansion of spying powers, Congress should not consider any further legislation until it has uncovered the truth and held accountable whoever has broken the law. The Administration's thin claims of state secrets can no longer be allowed to cover up the truth about its illegal activity.

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