252. Telecoms involved in warrantless wiretapping are represented by former government officials and protected by current officials who used to work for them
Friends in high places. Two of the telecoms current big issues are to scuttle Net Neutrality and to receive immunity retro-actively for their cooperation with the NSA in its warrantless wiretapping program. It just so happens that the new Counselor to the President and Karl Rove replacement (since June 13, 2007) is Ed Gillespie whose lobbying firm was hired last year by the US Telecom Association (including AT&T) to oppose Net Neutrality. And then on September 6, 2007, in an unusual move, the DOJ weighed in on an FCC request for comments with an anti-Net Neutrality filing. Its essentially rubberstamping Antitrust Division opined,"The FCC should be highly skeptical of calls to substitute special economic regulation of the Internet for free and open competition enforced by the antitrust laws." In other words, it is OK to sacrifice the public interest in a free, open, and "small d" democratic internet as long as the telecoms can increase their profits.
Meanwhile on September 17, 2007 Peter Keisler head of the DOJ’s Civil Division was named Acting Attorney General. He has been connected to AT&T for a long time. On October 13, 1998 (decided January 25, 1999), before he came to the DOJ, Keisler argued successfully AT&T v. Iowa Utilities Board before the Supreme Court in a case based on the 1996 Telecommunications Act challenging states’ rights to grant monopolies to local carriers. Later as head of the Civil Division at the DOJ, Keisler argued on June 23, 2006 before Judge Vaughn Walker in the US District Court for Northern California for dismissal on the basis of the State Secrets Privilege of a class action lawsuit (Hepting v. AT&T) brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation on behalf of the telecom’s customers who were subjected to warrantless wiretapping through the telecom’s cooperation with the NSA. AT&T’s counsel in the proceedings was Bradford Berenson who was an Associate White House counsel from 2001-2003 during Alberto Gonzales‚ tenure there. He described AT&T as an innocent bystander. The judge did not buy their arguments. Parenthetically, both Keisler and Berenson have worked to limit the rights of Guantanamo detainees.
(The program in question involved a secret room at an AT&T facility in San Francisco into which traffic from AT&T’s major fiber optic routers was split off. Only technicians with NSA clearance had access to the room. The room and program were “discovered” by a then AT&T technician Mark Klein who made a statement concerning this on April 6, 2006. Documents he obtained showed that the design for the room was completed by December 2002 and that construction on it began in early 2003. Its designation indicated that the NSA had other such rooms. The room contained equipment that could strip out and analyze network and customer usage information. It also had peer linking cut ins from February 2003 which connected it to the electronic feeds for virtually the entire internet. Where did all this information go? It’s hard to say although DARPA’s Total Information Awareness program (TIA) is run out of Fort Belvoir, Virginia.)
(On March 6, 2008, Babak Pasdar a former Verizon employee reported that in September 2003 he came across a high speed connection called the Quantico Circuit which pumped Verizon’s communications to Quantico, Virginia, the location of the FBI’s center for electronic surveillance.)
Finally, DNI Mike McConnell continues to lobby Congress on the retro-active immunity issue for telecoms. The telecoms have also mounted a behind the scenes congressional lobbying campaign led by James Cicconi, AT&T senior executive vice president and deputy chief of staff to GHW Bush, and William Barr, Verizon general counsel and Attorney General under the elder Bush.
Sometimes it is difficult to tell where the government ends and corporations like AT&T begin.