All about eavesdropping

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In Congress, there is a mix of indignant outrage and saluting support for President Bush’s warrant-less wiretapping program. The program is suspected to have been in place since 2001, the year terrorists struck hard at the United States.

The outrage on Capitol Hill is not limited to Democrats, who cannot seem to capitalize on any controversy otherwise putting the White House further on the defensive. Heading the charge for the Dems are Sens. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.). The two lawmakers want answers on alleged eavesdropping participation by parent telecom companies of the nation’s top mobile-phone carriers.

Indeed, Feingold and Kennedy sent a Feb. 9 letter to AT&T Inc. Chairman Edward Whitacre, Sprint-Nextel Corp. President Gary Forsee and Verizon Communications Inc. Chairman Ivan Seidenberg asking detailed questions about a National Security Agency eavesdropping effort initially believed to be limited to international calls. Now there are hints the surveillance program also extend to domestic calls. It is no surprise the three telecom giants refuse to talk about their responses to the Feingold-Kennedy letter. Harder to fathom is the behavior of the two lawmakers who made such a public display of the eavesdropping questionnaire they sent to the telecom executives. Feingold’s and Kennedy’s office will not say what, if anything, they have received from Whitacre, Forsee and Seidenberg.

Here’s my hunch: The three companies snubbed Feingold and Kennedy much as the Bush administration has on the eavesdropping controversy. Perhaps it is simply too embarrassing for powerful lawmakers to admit they’ve been trumped by political forces far greater than themselves. But that is the pecking order when it comes to national security in the post-9/11 world.

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee in February asked the Justice Department, among other things, which telecom firms had opened their communications networks to the NSA without warrants. DoJ repeated the answer they gave to numerous other questions posed by lawmakers, basically stating that it could neither confirm or deny program details as they could be used by terrorists to circumvent the program.

Apparently Mark Klein, a retired AT&T technician, and J. Scott Marcus, senior adviser for Internet technology to the Federal Communications Commission from July 2001 to July 2005, didn’t get the memo. The two men filed declarations supporting a lawsuit filed earlier this month by the Electronic Frontier Foundation against AT&T relative to the Bush wiretap campaign. “Mark Klein is a true American hero,” said EFF Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl. “He has bravely come forward with information critical for proving AT&T’s involvement with the government’s invasive surveillance program.”

Somehow I doubt there’s a White House ceremony in the making to honor Klein for his heroics.

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