Tuesday :: May 16, 2006

Why Are The Telecoms Directly Denying The USAT Story?

by Steve

OK, is this a case of word parsing, or did the USAT blow a major story, or be led into blowing a story? Yesterday, BellSouth flatly denied that it had given the NSA access to its call records, and went further today by saying that they had given no government agency any such access.

A day after denying that it provided bulk customer calling data to the National Security Agency, BellSouth Corp. said Tuesday it would never give any government agency such information without a subpoena or court order.
BellSouth said late Monday that it never gave the NSA that information, nor was it ever asked by the NSA to provide that information. Battcher, on Tuesday, extended the denial by saying the company did not provide bulk calling data to "any governmental agency."
Asked if BellSouth would provide the information if it had been requested to do so, Battcher said, "If we were asked, we would say, 'You must produce a definitive legal document for us to produce this information.'" He said the company would need to see a subpoena, a letter from a judge or a court order.

Now Verizon has come out and issued the same denial.

Verizon Communications Inc. denied Tuesday that it had received a request for customer phone records from the National Security Agency, bringing into question key points of a USA Today story.
"Contrary to the media reports, Verizon was not asked by NSA to provide, nor did Verizon provide, customer phone records," the New York-based phone company said in an e-mailed statement.

The denial does not apply to MCI, which Verizon has bought since 2001, but the USAT referenced Verizon in its story, not MCI.

Note that the original USAT story on this only references “sources”, and the only company that looks good in the original piece was Qwest. The USAT has since declined to comment on the denials from the telecoms, other than to say that BellSouth did not dispute the USAT's main points when presented to them for the original story. Yet the CEO today says something different:

USA Today said in a follow-up story Tuesday that BellSouth did not challenge the initial report when given details about it before publication. But Battcher said he never agreed to the reporter's allegations when presented with them.
Newspaper officials did not immediately return calls Tuesday.

Of course, Battcher's company is being sued to Kingdom Come now.

All three of the companies named in the USAT story have now in varying degrees denied the central element of the story, which is that the three companies have cooperated and turned over to the NSA millions of phone records on domestic callers without any court order or legal authorization. So with the denials, all three companies are putting the credibility of their multi-billion dollar enterprises at risk if it is found that they are engaging in word parsing here and in fact did what the USAT said they did.

Which raises several questions:

1. Did the USAT get the story correct here, and are the companies parsing words to cover the fact that the NSA "took" the information with the company's knowledge through its own equipment tapping into the company's switches, instead of the legally-problematic act of the companies "giving" the data to the feds?

2. Was the paper set up by leaks from “sources” aiming to discredit not only the paper, but to use the resulting flame-out to bury something worse and additional coverage of the matter?

And if you don’t think this is possible, then I would remind you of Dan Rather and the TANG memos, as well as what Karl Rove did to J. H. Hatfield.

I guess we can wait for Arlen Specter's hearings, where Mr. "Single Bullet" can dig into this and provide all the answers and accountability necessary.

Steve :: 2:28 PM :: Comments (44) :: TrackBack (0) :: Digg It!