Wholesale Surveillance Predates 9/11

A November 2, 2007 National Journal article titled, "NSA Sought Data Before 9/11" details the efforts of the Bush Administration to get pretty much all communications traffic back in February 2001. At least one telephone company, Qwest, refused:

Another source said that the NSA wanted to analyze the calls, e-mails, and other transmissions crossing Qwest's lines, to detect patterns of suspicious activity. Telecom carriers routinely monitor their networks for fraudulent activity, the former White House official noted, and so the companies "have an enormous amount of intelligence-gathering" capability. They don't have to target individual customers to "look for wacky behavior," or "groups communicating with each other in strange patterns." That information could augment intelligence that the NSA and other agencies were gathering from other sources, the former official said.

Qwest's then-chief executive officer, Joseph Nacchio, rejected the NSA's request. "He didn't want to go along with that," and his refusal was not greeted warmly in the intelligence community, the former White House official said. Another source, a former high-ranking intelligence official, said that other companies, both before and after 9/11, had less of a problem complying with government requests if they were accompanied by a legal order. The ex-official added that some companies were willing to offer data and to assist the government "as necessary" on a voluntary basis, without a court order.

The article goes on to talk about areas where Qwest did cooperate with NSA and indicates that the White House knew they were asking telcos to violate US statutes:

Nacchio, it appears, believed that the NSA's pre-9/11 request for access to Qwest's network was illegal. The former White House official said that the intelligence-gathering was not targeted at Qwest's U.S. customers, but he acknowledged that handing over customer information without a lawful order could violate the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, a 1986 law that extended wiretapping restrictions on phone calls to include electronic information transmitted by and stored in a computer.

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