Recent revelations about former Qwest chief executive Joe Nacchio's classified-information defense, which went unheard during his insider-trading trial, are feeding the furor over the government's warrantless-wiretapping program.
Nacchio alleges the National Security Agency asked Qwest to participate in a program the phone company thought was illegal more than six months before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to court documents unsealed at the request of The Denver Post.
Nacchio's claims could affect President Bush's controversial efforts to grant legal immunity to large telecommunications companies such as AT&T, which has been sued in connection with the surveillance program.
"The Nacchio materials suggesting that the NSA had sought telco cooperation even before 9/11 undermines the primary argument for letting the phone companies off the hook, which is the claim that they were simply acting in good faith to help the president fight the terrorists after 9/11," said Kevin Bankston, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil-liberties group.
"The fact that these materials suggest that cooperation with the program was tied to the award of certain government contracts also contradicts their (phone companies') claims that they were simply acting in good faith to help fight the terrorists when it appears that they may have been motivated by financial concerns instead," Bankston said.