Telecoms want immunity from prosecution for illegal spying–and Bush and the Democrats may just get it for them

By Martin Bosworth

The Sept. 20 Newsweek had an illuminating look at the secret lobbying campaign being waged by the major telecom companies to retroactively block lawsuits against them for their participation in the NSA/Bush regime illegal wiretapping program:

The campaign—which involves some of Washington’s most prominent lobbying and law firms—has taken on new urgency in recent weeks because of fears that a U.S. appellate court in San Francisco is poised to rule that the lawsuits should be allowed to proceed. If that happens, the telecom companies say, they may be forced to terminate their cooperation with the U.S. intelligence community—or risk potentially crippling damage awards for allegedly turning over personal information about their customers to the government without a judicial warrant. “It’s not an exaggeration to say the U.S. intelligence community is in a near-panic about this,” said one communications industry lawyer familiar with the debate who asked not to be publicly identified because of the sensitivity surrounding the issue.

It’s worth noting that even in the wake of the Democrats’ gutless endorsement of the FISA revisions, the one thing they didn’t get–immunity for the telecoms–is provoking such a heavy backdoor lobbying effort. A commenter at Glenn Greenwald’s blog notes that if FISA already granted immunity from prosecution if the surveillance didn’t require a warrant–well, that means that this program most obviously did require warrants for many of its targets, and the Bush administration simply didn’t bother to get them. This explains both why Abu Gonzales suddenly placed the program under FISA’s authority after months of claiming it was not accountable by FISA, and the sudden rush to get the Protect America Act passed.

This also explains the Justice Department’s bizarre love note to the telecoms opposing net neutrality–it was a clear political signal that the DOJ, even post-Gonzales, had their back in exchange for their support in the wiretapping program.

Speaking of the ever-estimable Greenwald, he spares no expense in lacerating former Clinton I Democrats for aiding the telecoms’ efforts to avoid any liability for their criminal actions:

It is hard to count the number of high Clinton officials who, like Gorelick, have spent the last six years getting rich selling their contacts and influence by working on behalf of lobbying and other clients to pursue legislation directly at odds with the political beliefs they pretended to have and will, once they are back in power, pretend again to have. Gorelick, needless to say, is an enthusiastic contributor to the Hillary Clinton campaign (as well as to Joe Lieberman’s). She’ll undoubtedly be a leading candidate for Attorney General in the next Clinton administration (perhaps serving along with Clinton supporter and “foreign policy expert” Michael O’Hanlon). Telecom lobbyist Donilon is also a maxed-out Clinton contributor.

Greenwald forgot to note the particularly egregious example of former Clinton press secretary Mike McCurry, who reduced himself to shilling for anti-net neutrality astroturf group Hands Off The Internet. If these are the kinds of people we can expect to be exerting influence on all sides of a Hillary Clinton presidency, then I imagine it’s safe to expect that even if Bush fails to get the immunity before his presidency ends, a Clinton II presidency might make it a priority.

And given that we have a majority-Democratic Senate that could mass enough effort to condemn for a newspaper ad, but not enough to oppose funding for the Iraq war or to challenge this most unconstitutional breach of privacy in the first place, Verizon, AT&T, and their like may just get what they want. Unless we stop it.


8 replies »

  1. This immunity gambit reminds too many people (I hope) of Hillary’s husband’s telecom bill, which basically gave the telecoms the right to steal from consumers. One expects that sort of “corporate interests first, last, always” bullshit from BushCo, but the prospect of Clinton2 stroking the telecoms the way Clinton1 did is, one hopes, nauseating enough of a prospect to drive some of her supporters into the arms of other, and to me, anyway, better Democratic candidates like John Edwards.

  2. It’s worth noting that much of the FBI’s ability to wiretap so effectively came as a result of telecom legislation that was passed early in Clinton’s first term. The Register has a great article about this out today:

    Edwards (and Obama) have come out in favor of both net neutrality and stronger broadband development from the country. To get there, though, means they’ll have to face off against the combined might of the most powerful industries in the country. Where they come down on this issue will be a big test of how they can not only win my vote, but run the country.

    And I agree with you–if they teamed up, they would be UNSTOPPABLE.

  3. Guess it’s time to dig deeply into FEC data and find out where and in what amounts telecom PAC money’s going.

    Thanks, Martin. An important post.

  4. I second John Edwards. Why aren’t most people ‘seeing’ this Jim? Are they blinded by something?

    Its almost enough to make a black man build a John Edwards base… 😉