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WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?
Magpie is a former journalist, attempted historian [No, you can't ask how her thesis is going], and full-time corvid of the lesbian persuasion. She keeps herself in birdseed by writing those bad computer manuals that you toss out without bothering to read them. She also blogs too much when she's not on deadline, both here and at Pacific Views.

Magpie roosts in Portland, Oregon, where she annoys her housemates (as well as her cats Medea, Whiskers, and Jane Doe) by attempting to play Irish music on the fiddle and concertina.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Very interesting indeed.

If I'd had a brain yesterday, I would have posted about a very interesting development in the NSA phone database story: Both Verizon and BellSouth have denied providing phone records to the NSA. Along with AT&T, these two companies had been named by USA Today as having provided the feds with records on millions of domestic phone calls.

My first response to those denial was that the telecoms were lying to protect their corporate asses. My second response was that, not only were they lying, but they had made sure that no records existed to show their participation in the NSA spying program. Today, a stories at Salon and Think Progress seem to show that my instincts were right.

While searching through Whitehouse.gov a week or so ago, Salon's Tim Grieve may have figured out why the telecoms denied helping the NSA: a May 5, 2006 'Memorandum for the Director National Intelligence' in which Dubya gave National Intelligence Directory John Negroponte 'the function of the president under section 13(b)(3)(A) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (15 U.S.C. 78m(b)(3)(A)).'

No, Grieve didn't have a clue as to what that power was, either. Luckily Judd Legum at Think Progress dug a bit into the section of the Securities Exchange Act in question. It turns out that this section deals with whether a company that cooperates with the government on a 'national security' matter has to report that activity.

With respect to matters concerning the national security of the United States, no duty or liability under paragraph (2) of this subsection shall be imposed upon any person acting in cooperation with the head of any Federal department or agency responsible for such matters if such act in cooperation with such head of a department or agency was done upon the specific, written directive of the head of such department or agency pursuant to Presidential authority to issue such directives....

What that legalese means is that, after a company cooperates with the feds in some national security endeavor, the president can waive the part of the Securities Exchange Act that normally would have required the company to report that activity.

If you don't already see where this is going, I'll spell it out:
  • May 5: As the controversy over the NSA's illegal wiretapping program heats up, Dubya issues a memorandum giving National Intelligence Director John Negroponte the power to let companies who cooperate in national security matters hide the public record of that cooperation.

  • May 10: USA Today publishes its story about the NSA's database containing records of billions of domestice telephone calls. According to the story, AT&T, BellSouth, and Verizon willingly provided call record data for that database.

  • May 15/16: Several days after the USA Today story, Verizon and BellSouth deny that they cooperated with the NSA.

A person could easily conclude that the administration either had advance notice of the USA Today article or was worried for other reasons that the existence of the NSA database was about to become public. To prevent this, Dubya gives Negroponte the right to let companies that cooperated with the NSA hide their participation. (By doing so, incidentally, Dubya makes it possible to deny any connection to the cover-up: 'I didn't tell the companies they could do that. It was Negroponte, acting without my knowledge.') With presidential authorization, Negroponte tells Verizon, BellSouth, and AT&T that they don't have to publicly report that they gave phone records to the NSA. Finally — surprise! — Verizon and BellSouth deny helping the NSA, and USA Today is looking like it reported something that wasn't true.

Of course, only someone who was really paranoid would believe that the administration would engineer such a scenario.

| | Posted by Magpie at 9:37 AM | Get permalink




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