Telecoms. The Bush administration couldn't have conducted warrantless surveillance without them. Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell admitted as much in an interview this week, The Washington Post reports.
"[U]nder the president's program, the terrorist surveillance program, the private sector had assisted us," Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell said in an interview with the El Paso Times published Wednesday.
That's a shocking acknowledgment because in a lawsuit against AT&T the government has steadfastly refused to admit or deny or even discuss the involvement of the phone companies. Actually there are dozens of suits against phone companies.
In San Francisco, the government wants the suit thrown out because any discussion of the program would endanger national security.
"[D]isclosure of the information covered by this [state secrets] privilege assertion reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States," McConnell said in a sworn affidavit filed in a federal court in San Francisco in May.
McConnell's statement "does serious damage to the government's state secrets claims that are at the heart of its defenses," said Greg Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology and an expert on state secrets privilege.
It's not the first time an administration has attempted to block disclosure of embarrassing information by claiming a state secret. Bruce Fein, an associate deputy attorney general in the Reagan administration, recalled Nixon's attempt to block the Church Committee hearings on government surveillance of civilians.
"These Cassandran cries that the earth is going to fall every time you have a discussion simply are not borne out by the facts," he said.
The administration wants Congress to grant the telecoms immunity from the suits.
"If you play out the suits at the value they're claimed, it would bankrupt these companies," McConnell said.