Telcos Deny NSA Ties - And Allowed to Lie?

Verizon and BellSouth are denying the charges, that they've helped out the NSA. AT&T, on the other hand, finds itself back in court this morning, over its alleged cooperation with the spooks. The issue: Company whistleblower Mark Klein's notes about the 24-by-48 feet "secret room... [that] only people with security clearance from the National Security Agency can enter."1930_operators.jpgRyan Singel, as usual, has the scoop.Meanwhile, Eric Umansky sees some "exquisitely crafted spin going on."

As the NYT puts it, a "senior government official confirmed" that the NSA has "access to records of most telephone calls in the United States." The Times hints at a possible explanation for the discrepancy: The spooks are tracking only long-distance calls, and Verizon and BellSouth hand those calls off to other providers, such as, say, AT&T, which is the one company named that has stayed mum.
Sounds possible. But that BellSouth denial, at least, was about as unequivocal as you could imagine: "We have provided no customer information whatsoever to the NSA."UPDATE 11:38 AM: This William Arkin post is well worth a read:
I spoke to a friend in the business yesterday, a retired military intelligence officer who works at some beltway corporation that contracts big time with NSA.He cautions that I shouldn't get ahead of themselves worrying about an all-seeing government and a seamless surveillance culture. Billions are being secretly spent annually for software development, network infrastructure, database management, etc., to build a dreamed for system that will be able to autonomously connect the dots and detect terrorists before they strike. But a seamless system, my always reliable and level headed friend assures, is still far away.So that got me thinking: a fantastic system costing billions of dollars roping in scores of companies butting up against orthodoxy and even legality with the dreamed for end result of autonomous and perfect defense.Data mining is the Bush administration's Star Wars.
UPDATE 12:18 PM: Back at Wired News, there's a look at "The Ultimate Net Monitoring Tool" -- Narus' Semantic Traffic Analyzer installed at AT&T, allegedly at the NSA's behest.UPDATE 3:17 PM: Eric has dug up another plausible explanation for the telcos' denials: they outsource all the data-mineable info to Israel. He pulls up this Fox News transcript as evidence:
BellSouth subcontracts with an Israeli company known as Amdocs to handle its billing, as do several other U.S. phone companies. In 2001, U.S. intelligence officials were on record as saying that the information that Amdocs handled was so valuable that a great deal could be learned if sophisticated data-mining techniques were used against that information.
UPDATE 3:20 PM: Oh, this is rich. "Ordinarily, a company that conceals their transactions and activities from the public would violate securities law," ThinkProgess notes. "But an presidential memorandum signed by the President on May 5 allows the Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, to authorize a company to conceal activities related to national security. (See 15 U.S.C. 78m(b)(3)(A))"
There is no evidence that this executive order has been used by John Negroponte with respect to the telcos. Of course, if it was used, we wouldnt know about it.
(Big ups: TP)
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