We all knew that the telcos wouldn't be pushing for retroactive immunity from criminal acts unless they knew they had commited them. The only question was how egregiously did they compromise our rights? The answer isn't pretty.
Lambert rounds up the facts and now we have pretty fair inkling of what the administration has been hiding and what Justice was willing to quit over. The NSA program didn't start in response to 9/11. They've been surveilling all internet traffic, foreign and domestic, from the very beginning.
That’s all Internet traffic, foreign and domestic, data and voice. And the decision to do this was taken, not because of 9/11, but as soon as Bush took office. As was the decision to ignore the rule of law. So much for the idea that the extremely benevolent and trustworthy Bush administration was reacting to 9/11, and just wants “surgical” surveillance* to keep us safe from terrorists, eh? Could this program be Spencer Ackerman’s “Project X”?
Anyhow, it’s late, so I can’t do this story justice, but according to Wired:And in May 2006, a lawsuit filed against Verizon for allegedly turning over call records to the NSA alleged that AT&T began building a spying facility for the NSA just days after President Bush was inaugurated. That lawsuit is one of 50 that were consolidated and moved to a San Francisco federal district court, where the suits sit in limbo waiting for the 9th Circuit Appeals court to decide whether the suits can proceed without endangering national security.
I wonder if anyone has a count of how many times this administration has evoked national security and state's secrets to cover up their crimes? I used to wonder why we haven't impeached them but the real question should be, why haven't we indicted them? Oh right. The courts are packed with their appointees.
Update: I neglected to add one particularly material quote from the Wired piece.
The NSA program was initially conceived at least one year prior to 2001 but had been called off; it was reinstated within 11 days of the entry into office of defendant George W. Bush.
This answers the question of how Bush was able to waltz into office and start the program up immediately, but also raises the question of why Clinton developed the program in the first place. One would like to think that it was because he was taking the early intelligence on the AQ threat seriously and wanted to increase surveillance capacity but then abandoned the plan as illegal under the rule of law.
In any event, since 9/11 happened anyway, it would belie the notion that this sort of surveillance has any value in preventing terrorist attacks. I'd note also that these new revelations indicate that the telcos, with the exception of Qwest, willingly entered into lucrative contracts with our government to conduct what they clearly knew was illegal data collection simply for the money. They certainly don't deserve immunity for knowingly breaking the law.
Meanwhile for the computer geeks, Charles explains in comments, the technical aspects of this sort of wide net surveillance.