Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Surveillance started before 9/11

I didn't get a chance to mention this before I went to Indianapolis, but it still seems important and not widely enough recognized. It has come out, due to information filed and finally unsealed in an insider-trading case involving Joseph Nacchio, former head of Qwest Communications, that the administration asked for customer information from Qwest that Qwest lawyers considered illegal in February 2001, long before anybody but a few specialists had heard of Osama bin Laden or considered al-Qaida a threat. Qwest didn't comply, and believes it was frozen out of government contracts as retaliation. But other phone companies apparently did comply. According to former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill's book and former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke's book, the administration might have been hearing about Islamist terrorism then, but it wasn't paying much attention.

What this suggests strongly is that even before it had the justification of the 9/11 attacks, the administration was at least aggressively expanding executive-branch power to do surveillance, probably on Americans, though there's still a lot that's classified about this whole affair. That would be consistent with Dick Cheney's decades-long campaign, ever since Watergate, of restoring the kind of arbitrary powers to the presidency he thought were unjustifiably curbed after Watergate.

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