When Qwest refused the NSA’s illegal request that it hand over its customers’ data without a warrant, the NSA wasn’t happy. According to former Qwest CEO Joseph Nacchio, the government hit back for the telecom’s refusal by denying them lucrative contracts (log-in required) worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

That claim, backed up by documents, was made during Nacchio’s appeal of his conviction for insider trading. Whether or not Nacchio’s appeal goes through, his case has brought forward some interesting facts that deserve to be highlighted.

First, the most fascinating detail to emerge is that it appears the NSA was talking to the giant telecoms about handing over customer data a full seven months before 9/11. Documents show that Nacchio met with the NSA on February 27, 2001, at which time Nacchio refused a request that he deemed illegal. If true, this would seem to contradict the Bush administration claim that any laws broken by the telecoms were hasty mistakes made in the confusion following the terrorist attacks.

Equally disturbing is the picture that is emerging of what goes on in the backrooms of the nation’s telecoms. It appears that the NSA’s requests for cooperation came with an implied quid pro quo — give us your customer’s calling records and we will reward you with generous contracts worth millions. It is beginning to look like the telecoms were motivated by something other than “patriotism” after all.

As Salon’s Glenn Greenwald puts it, the telecoms and the government “meet and plan and agree so frequently, and at such high levels, that they practically form a consortium.”

The Federal Government has its hands dug deeply into the entire ostensibly "private" telecommunications infrastructure and, in return, the nation's telecoms are recipients of enormous amounts of revenues by virtue of turning themselves into branches of the Federal Government.

The details emerging from the backrooms where telecoms and the government conspire together make it increasingly clear that now is the time for Congress to act. Investigations into what the telecoms knew and when they knew it should be continued, and no wiretapping legislation should be passed until Congress and the public have the full story of what has happened in the last six years.

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