Today, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino admitted that the defendants in the lawsuits against telecommunications carriers "certainly helped us," marking the first time the White House has admitted that the particular companies alleged to have participated in the wiretapping did indeed participate.
Since we first filed suit against the telecommunications carriers, the Bush Administration has been asserting that confirming or denying whether the defendants actually assisted would cause "exceptionally grave harm to the the national security." While it is well known that AT&T and Verizon participated, the Administration has tried to be coy, using phrases like the "companies believed to have assisted in the efforts to defend America" to refer to the telecoms, and refusing to be clearer. At the Ninth Circuit hearing [PDF transcript], the government contended that "whether, or to what extent, any secret intelligence-gathering relationship exists between AT&T and the government" was still a state secret.
The word game first started to fall apart when the Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell admitted that "under the president's program, the terrorist surveillance program, the private sector had assisted us." When EFF brought this to the attention of the Ninth Circuit, the government attempted to explain the DNI's comments away:
At most, the DNI stated that one ("a partner") or some unnamed private companies had assisted the Terrorist Surveillance Program ... and "were being sued." The DNI ... did not state that all companies "being sued" had assisted ...
While we respectfully disagree with the government's spin, today's White House statement is much clearer. The transcript reads:
Q But were the telephone companies told that it was legal to wiretap six months before 9/11?
MS. PERINO: The telephone companies that were alleged to have helped their country after 9/11 did so because they are patriotic and they certainly helped us and they helped us save lives.
As the complaints make clear, AT&T and Verizon are some of the companies "that were alleged to have" assisted in the warrantless wiretapping program.
The last chance to hold telecommunications companies accountable for this lawbreaking now lies with the House — phone your representative now to let them know where you stand.
Wired's Threat Level has more.