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Say Thanks to Qwest!

Say Thanks to Qwest!

Website created by Richard Kastelein
Text by Chris Floyd and Richard Kastelein

It’s not often these days that we have occasion to laud corporate behavior, but the stance taken by the telecom Qwest in resisting the Bush Administration’s covert program to ensnare every single American citizen in a vast web of telephone surveillance deserves our thanks.

Every other telecom sold out the privacy of its customers – literally so, taking money to turn over their phone records to the National Security Agency – but Qwest alone insisted on having a court order before complying with Bush’s unprecedented and “indefensible” (as Newt Gingrich put it) invasion of Americans’ personal lives and business affairs.

Bush’s domestic spies refused to supply any formal legal justification whatsoever for their extraordinary request, beyond the implied “plenary powers” of the “Commander-in-Chief”: the novel – and equally indefensible — doctrine that the Administration had adopted as the basis of what is effectively a presidential dictatorship, beyond the reach of law.

It is, of course, a sad commentary on our times that Qwest should be praised so highly for merely obeying the law of the land. But this is what we’ve come to. Our leaders are lawless, and it is now up to every citizen – including corporate citizens – to embody and enact the laws and values of the Republic, on our own, until Constitutional government can be restored.

One simple act we can take is to support those who take a public stand for the law. You can say thanks to Qwest by posting a comment below (you don’t need to join, or leave an email or website to post – just scroll down and hit the comments link).

And pass this man an email as well:

Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer
David J. Heller

Click here to visit Qwest website

USA Today first broke the story, and now we all know: the National Security Agency has been collecting the private phone records of tens of millions of American citizens since 2001, gathering the tainted bounty of this sinister harvest into “the largest data base ever assembled in the world,” as one insider put it. Under the direction of General Michael V. Hayden — the military spymaster now nominated to head the CIA — the NSA carried out this massive “black op” against the American people in total secrecy, without the court orders clearly required to obtain this information. So how did Hayden and his creepy peepers into America’s privacy get hold of the phone records?

Simple: the major U.S. telecommunications corporations — all but one — turned them over to the government, for money — your money. That’s right: the Bush Administration used your tax dollars to pay the Big Telecoms to hand over your private phone records.

From USA Today:

…The sources said the NSA made clear that it was willing to pay for the cooperation. AT&T, which at the time was headed by C. Michael Armstrong, agreed to help the NSA.

So did BellSouth, headed by F. Duane Ackerman; SBC, headed by Ed Whitacre; and Verizon, headed by Ivan Seidenberg. With that, the NSA’s domestic program began in earnest.

If you are among the multitudes who signed up, in good faith, to BellSouth, AT&T or Verizon, expecting your privacy to be protected, as required by laws going back more than seven decades, the record of every phone call you have made in the last four-and-a-half years is now in the hands of a secret government program operating without any genuine oversight or restrictions against abuse. This includes the call records of every government or corporate whistleblower, every investigative journalist digging up government corruption, every political opponent of the Administration’s policies. Imagine how useful it would be for the Bush Administration to type in the name of, say, Seymour Hersh, and find out every government insider he’s talked to on the phone for the past four years?

Rarely has such a powerful, all-pervasive tool for repression been placed in the hands of a government; and rarely has there a been a government which has proven itself less trustworthy to hold such power without abusing it.

After the September 11 attacks in 2001, the Bush Administration decided to ignore the existing laws governing surveillance, in particular the special secret courts set up under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978. This urge to bypass FISA is not surprising; the secret courts – which had almost never refused a single request for surveillance of terrorst or espionage suspects – had been created in response to widespread government spying on citizens in for decades, a mania for illicit intrusion that reached its height under the disgraced president Richard Nixon.

Two of the greatest proponents of these assaults on civil liberties were high-ranking minions in the Nixon Administration: Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld. After Nixon’s ignominious departure, with Congress finally acting to restrain the manifold abuses of the national security system, Cheney and Rumsfeld – now Chief of Staff and Defense Secretary for Gerald Ford – buried investigations of a covert telecommunications spy program remarkably similar to the current NSA scheme under the butt-covering rubric of “executive privilege.” The original FISA restrictions were, in fact, aimed directly at serial abusers of power like Cheney and Rumsfeld. It is no wonder that they discarded these restrictions at the first opportunity once they had returned in glory to the White House.

George W. Bush gave his full authority to the NSA program, whose ostensible purpose is to “data-mine” blind phone numbers — with no names or content of the calls divulged — in search of connections between suspected terrorists. Hayden in turn delegated the responsibility to lower-echelon shift supervisors – as in the Watergate days – further diluting the already soup-thin oversight of the operation. For years, it has been carried out in total secrecy; there is simply no way of knowing how they have used – or abused – this massive database, or what other information, such as call content, they have obtained from the phone companies, or by other means.

The Bush Administration pointedly refrained from using any existing legal mechanism in requesting the call records, when it could have very easily done so and doubtless obtained all the information it sought for the data-mining program. In the absence of any other credible explanation – beyond bland assertions of “trust us, it’s all legal” – we are certainly justified in suspecting that the Administration had purposes for the program which lay outside the scope of FISA or any other law governing domestic surveillance.

But the major telecoms were evidently unconcerned about the lack of legality. Once the NSA dangled a bit of long green in their faces, they passed over the call records without a by your leave. Only Qwest – the often beleaguered telecom with a checkered past and an uncertain legal future hanging over its chief – refused to cooperate without the sensible expedient of a court order. After all, that was the law, and had been since the 1930s. There is no doubt that Qwest, given the appeals to patriotism and national security in the tumultuous days after 9/11, would have willingly complied – if the request had been made in a legal manner.

Qwest’s stand is even more remarkable given the heavy pressure applied by Bush team.

From USA Today:

…Trying to put pressure on Qwest, NSA representatives pointedly told Qwest that it was the lone holdout among the big telecommunications companies.

It also tried appealing to Qwest’s patriotic side: In one meeting, an NSA representative suggested that Qwest’s refusal to contribute to the database could compromise national security, one person recalled.

In addition, the agency suggested that Qwest’s foot-dragging might affect its ability to get future classified work with the government.

Like other big telecommunications companies, Qwest already had classified contracts and hoped to get more.

Aside from concerns over legality, morality and liberty, the very utility of the NSA program has also been called into question. The blunderbuss approach of harvesting millions upon millions of phone records to be churned by supercomputers seems wildly at odds with the kind of careful, precise human intelligence and investigative work required to pinpoint the deliberately scattered, deeply buried, small networks of actual terrorists out there. And the already massive extent of the program is evidently just the beginning.

From USA Today:

It’s the largest database ever assembled in the world,” said one person, who, like the others who agreed to talk about the NSA’s activities, declined to be identified by name or affiliation. The agency’s goal is “to create a database of every call ever made” within the nation’s borders, this person added.

…The usefulness of the NSA’s domestic phone-call database as a counterterrorism tool is unclear. Also unclear is whether the database has been used for other purposes.

“Other purposes” is the operative phrase here. Because “data-mining” for terrorists in giant phone record banks is like trying to find microscopic needles in an ever-growing haystack. It is, in a word, impossible, according to expert to Bruce Schneier from Wired Magazine.

This unrealistically accurate system will generate 1 billion false alarms for every real terrorist plot it uncovers. Every day of every year, the police will have to investigate 27 million potential plots in order to find the one real terrorist plot per month.

Raise that false-positive accuracy to an absurd 99.9999 percent and you’re still chasing 2,750 false alarms per day — but that will inevitably raise your false negatives, and you’re going to miss some of those 10 real plots.

This isn’t anything new. In statistics, it’s called the “base rate fallacy,” and it applies in other domains as well. For example, even highly accurate medical tests are useless as diagnostic tools if the incidence of the disease is rare in the general population.

Terrorist attacks are also rare, any “test” is going to result in an endless stream of false alarms. This is exactly the sort of thing we saw with the NSA’s eavesdropping program: the New York Times reported that the computers spat out thousands of tips per month.

Every one of them turned out to be a false alarm. And the cost was enormous — not just for the FBI agents running around chasing dead-end leads instead of doing things that might actually make us safer, but also the cost in civil liberties.

The fundamental freedoms that make our country the envy of the world are valuable, and not something that we should throw away lightly.

So again, we are left with the question: What is the NSA program really about? Who are they really spying on? Remember, we are dealing with an Administration that has already declared – in open court, in Congressional testimony, in internal memos, in executive orders and “presidential signing statements” – that the president has the “inherent authority” as Commander-in-Chief during “wartime” to ignore or reinterpret any law that might restrict his “plenary powers.” We have seen this pernicious doctrine in action for years: it underlies the use of torture throughout the global system of detention centers, secret prisons and the concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay that Bush has set up; it underlies Bush’s outrageous claim that he can apprehend anyone on earth and hold them indefinitely, without charges or trial, simply by declaring them, on his own authority, an “enemy combatant,” a “terrorist” or even a “suspected terrorist.”

(For example, the Bush Administration has declared in open court that the U.S. government would be justified in capturing and holding a “little old lady in Switzerland” if she unwittingly gave money to a charity used as a front by terrorists. Deputy Attorney General Brian Boyle made the assertion in a hearing on Dec. 1, 2004, adding the chilling words: “Someone’s intention is clearly not a factor that would disable detention.” This admittedly innocent little old lady would then be subjected to a military tribunal, which alone would decide “whether to believe her and release her” – or keep her locked up.)

So we are dealing with an Administration that openly admits that innocent people can be “legimately” swept up in its vast covert nets and subjected to indefinite imprisonment at the mercy of a military tribunal. And we are supposed to believe that these same officials, willing to go to such draconian lengths, are acting with scrupulous circumspection when handling the private phone records of millions of American citizens? We are supposed to believe they are using this gargantuan NSA program solely to ferret out a few terrorists?

From USA Today:

…With access to records of billions of domestic calls, the NSA has gained a secret window into the communications habits of millions of Americans.

Customers’ names, street addresses and other personal information are not being handed over as part of NSA’s domestic program, the sources said. But the phone numbers the NSA collects can easily be cross-checked with other databases to obtain that information.

The NSA phone-spy program, which we are now told is only the “tip of the iceberg”, is designed to identify social networks – of any kind. It is far too large to have been created solely to find a few terrorists. It beggars belief – and belies the evidence of the Administration’s behavior over the past five years – to assume that other “social networks” are not also being targeted by the program: Democrats and other political opponents, internal dissidents, activist groups, journalists…basically anyone who is against Bush and the way he is fighting his self-declared, never-ending “War on Terror.”

But the dictatorial powers being claimed under the aegis of this “War” are not new measures in response to an unprecedented emergency – they are old abuses long championed by the most powerful elements in the Bush Administration. These powers of surveillance, secrecy and repression of dissent were being systematically restored by the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld junta long before 9/11.

In the end, the NSA program is not about “national security” or fighting terrorists. It is just another front in a long-running war against the liberties of the American people: freedoms which are despised and feared by elites who believe that their power and privilege are the only genuine “national interests.”

Who knows? Tomorrow we may see Qwest in collusion with these elites on some other front. But right now, in this fight, they have been a champion of liberty and deserve our thanks. So go show them some love. But in the words of the late, great Johnny Cash: keep your eyes wide open all the time.

464 Responses to “Say Thanks to Qwest!”

Pages: [1] 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 » Show All

  1. 1
    RIchard Says:

    Thanks Qwest!

  2. 2
    ilyana Says:

    Thank you qwesdt for behaving like a real American company!

  3. 3
    ilyana Says:

    oops. let me try that again 🙂
    Thank you, Qwest for behaivng like a real American company!

  4. 4
    admin Says:

    Thanks! It now works.

  5. 5
    bert harvey Says:

    Thank you Qwest. Now, if only you had service in my area so i could subscribe with you.

  6. 6
    Terra Says:

    Thank you Qwest! It’s nice to see someone following principle over profits. You will be rewarded for your commitment to the American people.

    When will you have cell service in Ohio?

  7. 7
    Prudence Says:

    Thanks,Qwest! My family already has landline and cell phone service through your company. We *had* been looking at a combo package through a cable company, but now we will be staying with you to show our loyalty to the only telecom that did the right thing. I will be encouraging other family and friends to switch to your services to show our support. Well done!

  8. 8
    D vanCleve Mitchell Says:

    Qwest~ I am out of your reach up in Maine, but I appreciate this opportunity to thank you for behaving like Real Americans in response to the NSA pressure to enlist your cooperation in selling out the Americn people. You done REALLY GOOD.

  9. 9
    Landon Breidenstein Says:

    Thanks Quest, you are a true American Patriot.

  10. 10
    Alice Says:

    Thanks so much! You are our company already, and now you will be forever come hell or high water. Your courage is needed throughout the country – you are setting a wonderful example.

  11. 11
    Madison Says:

    Thank you. Thank you for protecting the privacy rights of your customers.

  12. 12
    Stephen Says:

    As a Qwest customer, I’ve got to say: Thanks and well done! Thanks for doing the right thing. Thanks for caring about the rule of law. You’ve scored some major brownie points from me.

  13. 13
    Patty Says:

    Thanks for making me proud to be a customer!

  14. 14
    Hari Says:

    Thank you for upholding the laws of our country. I wish I were one of your customers.

  15. 15
    Joe Says:

    Thanks Quest. Time to check to see if Quest offers mobile phone service – since Verizon sold us out.

  16. 16
    Ted Says:

    Thank you Qwest.

  17. 17
    libby owens Says:

    Thanks so much for protecting the rights of your customers. I am cancelling my Verizon phone service tomorrow and wish that you were here in Indiana. Your company should be commended for your actions and I am hoping you will be rewarded by having many people call you for service. I may even buy stock! I want you to know that your actions have given me hope that in this country we still have people who understand the laws that are the foundation of our democracy.

    Libby Owens

  18. 18
    BR Says:

    Thank you. I’d switch if I could.

  19. 19
    Mary Says:

    Thank you Qwest for have the spinal fortitude to say no!

  20. 20
    Coby Says:

    Good job. These are very dangerous times and I am glad there is at least one such company with some connection to what is right and what is legal.

    Thank you.

  21. 21
    toasty critter Says:

    Quest, you did right.

  22. 22
    Sandy Berman Says:

    I’m switching over to Qwest right now.

    True Americans all!

  23. 23
    Mike Says:

    Thank you, Qwest. And thank you, David J. Heller, Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer. You’ve set a new high-bar for Corporate/Gov’t relations. Your reward should be an appreciative and eager national market. Come to the Midwest and I’ll do my part.

  24. 24
    John Says:

    Thanks, I wish I could use your service!

  25. 25
    CRome Says:

    I’ve bee using Verizon, for land phone, cell phones & DSL. Looks like I can switch to QWest for some of these services. Could you expand all your services to include NJ, QWest? I admire your sense of principle and determination to honor your customer’s rights. I want to use QWest for all my telephone/DSL services.

  26. 26
    JD Says:

    Thank you Qwest. What will your next advertising campaign be ? “Qwest – Telecom provider to the terrorists”. Well done.

  27. 27
    snarly Says:

    As a Qwest customer, I must say that I was delighted that you did the right thing and protected the privacy of your customers.
    Thank you.

  28. 28
    Eric in Ottawa Says:

    Qwest did the right thing and deserve commendation. Thank you Qwest.

    There is still time to stop this madness… speak up, stand up, and be careful who you give money to!

  29. 29
    RLSewell Says:

    Thank You Qwest.

  30. 30
    Fred Says:

    Thanks for doing the right thing!

  31. 31
    Adrian Says:

    Just when I felt I’d walked into an Orwell novel… THANK YOU QWEST! That’s PATRIOTISM.

  32. 32
    Sammy Says:

    Thanks Qwest! If you had service in California I would switch right away! But you don’t, so I may have to move to where you do. … You definitely did the right thing.

  33. 33
    Paul Says:

    Thanks Qwest for being ethically and fiscally responsible at the same time. Kudos!

  34. 34
    John Hartnett Says:

    Qwest, you were cautious. And that’s purely a-ok. You were not stampeded into participating in this huge clusterf**k. Thank you. You did stand up to the Powers That Be, even at the risk of financial damage, a rare thing in corporate America. thank you again. If ever you come to Florida, you’re my company.

  35. 35
    Joe Ebel Says:

    Thanks for showing some backbone and common sense! If you only had ISDN service in North Carolina I’d switch all our numbers to Qwest!!!

  36. 36
    H.B. Ward Says:

    Thanks for your patriotism, Qwest, even you figured that millions of outraged Americans like me might switch to your service just to punish AT&T. I’m switching today.

  37. 37
    H. Senior Says:

    Thank you, Qwest!

  38. 38
    MDL Says:

    Way to go Quest, I was impressed to learn that the company also failed to give in when the government leaned on them.

  39. 39
    M. Pasupathi & F. Drews Says:

    We were pleasantly surprised to learn Qwest was standing up for privacy. Good job!

  40. 40
    M. K. Finnigan Says:

    Appreciate the fact that your company, unlike the Bush Crime Family, respects the law.

  41. 41
    andrew Says:

    This is cool. As soon as I heard about the data-mining going on, and that Qwest was not implicated I sat down and sent the following to Mr. Heller before I even knew this site existed. Maybe it’s not much, but it’s my best shot:

    Subject: Qwest’s refusal of NSA request
    Date: Thu, 11 May 2006 17:00:11 -0700

    Dear Mr. Heller,

    Please forgive me if this letter is misdirected. I feel compelled to thank
    Qwest for not having given my — or any other customers — calling
    information to the NSA. This is an extremely important decision Qwest’s
    former chairman Joe Nacchio made early in the days after 11 September 2001. I
    cannot stress that enough. This is an extremely important decision Qwest’s
    former chairman Joe Nacchio made. I wish to thank Richard Notebaert for
    continuing to uphold that decision in respecting the confidentiality, and
    legal and Constitutional rights of their customers. I believe the impact of
    these decisions will reflect well on Qwest.

    I’ve had my frustrations with Qwest in the past over service issues, of
    course, but I truly feel that Qwest has worked to protect its customers and
    their legal and Constitutional rights. I often find myself at odds with
    corporate interests. So it is refreshing to me to find out that there is
    still ethical behavior to be found in the corporate world. I wish there were
    a more tangible way I could express my thanks. Unfortunately, this letter
    will have to suffice. I ask only that Qwest continues to realize the trust it
    holds and not lapse in its responsibility those it serves.


    Andrew M. Jackson

  42. 42
    D. McCarthy Says:

    It will be an honor to pay my bill next month! Thank you Qwest!

  43. 43
    Myrrh Says:

    Thank you. I am a long-time customer, and my faith has been renewed that ALL corporations are not cutthroats!
    I appreciate that you made a stand for our privacy.

  44. 44
    John Unruh Says:

    I wish I lived in your service area. I would switch to your company and drop ATT like a hot potato. Thank you for showing us all that a large corporation can do the legal and ethical thing.

  45. 45
    andrew Says:

    um…sorry for the screwy formatting. Clearly, a copy-paste job gone terribly awry.


  46. 46
    Jake Jensen Says:

    What a wonderful surprise from an unexpected source! God bless the service area covered by Qwest Communications!

  47. 47
    TLMS Says:

    Thank you, Qwest. I’ve been a customer for a long time and have been impressed with the excellent products and services you’ve provided. Now I am even more impressed with Qwest. Standing up to the NSA must’ve been difficult, so thank you for doing so. All of you are heroes!

  48. 48
    ramona Says:

    Qwest, you did yourself proud.

  49. 49
    Vance Says:

    Qwest is best!

    I don’t have any service I can switch, but I will see if my friends in other areas do and lean on them to support your historic stand.

  50. 50
    Carrie Says:

    I am a current phone and DSL subscriber who is now a loyal customer for life.

    Thank you for obeying the law instead of the government. Thank you for demonstrating corporate patriotism in action!

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