June 2, 2008 | By Kurt Opsahl

Spying Telecoms Receive Billions in Government Contracts

The telecoms who are being sued for their cooperation in the government's illegal warrantless surveillance program have received billions in government contracts. According to Washington Technology magazine, Verizon received $1.3 billion, Sprint $839 million and AT&T $505 million in federal prime contract revenue for fiscal 2007, for a total of $2.6 billion. While the companies have been government contractors for a long time, it still represents a significant increase in revenue.

Telecom apologists like to suggest that the communications companies' motivation was not financial. As Judge Walker noted when examining EFF's allegations of dragnet surveillance: "AT&T cannot seriously contend that a reasonable entity in its position could have believed that the alleged domestic dragnet was legal." Yet, the prospect of $2.6 billion per year can go a long way to explaining why an industry might cooperate with a program far outside the limitations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), despite the difficulty of believing it was legal.

Note that the numbers represent publicly available information for prime contracting only and do not include subcontracting revenue. Any monies paid for the secret NSA surveillance program would be in addition to the public contracting numbers.

According to former Qwest chief executive Joseph Nacchio "the government withdrew opportunities for contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars after Qwest refused to participate in an unidentified National Security Agency program that the company thought might be illegal." In light of these allegations and the vast sums awarded to the participating telecoms, before Congress votes on the pending FISA legislation or considers any form of immunity for the telecoms, it should hold thorough hearings, and find out if there was any quid pro quo.

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