"[Former Qwest CEO Joseph] Nacchio's account, which places the NSA proposal at a meeting on Feb. 27, 2001, suggests that the Bush administration was seeking to enlist telecommunications firms in programs without court oversight before the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon. The Sept. 11 attacks have been cited by the government as the main impetus for its warrantless surveillance efforts.
The allegations could affect the debate on Capitol Hill over whether telecoms sued for disclosing customers' phone records and other data to the government after the Sept. 11 attacks should be given legal immunity, even if they did not have court authorization to do so.
Spokesmen for the Justice Department, the NSA, the White House and the director of national intelligence declined to comment, citing the ongoing legal case against Nacchio and the classified nature of the NSA's activities. Federal filings in the appeal have not yet been disclosed.
Wired Magazine has more, noting others who have made the same claims about the date when these programs actually began. The information completely undercuts claims by the president that warrantless wiretaps are vital to a war on terrorism, since he began authorizing prior to the terrorist attacks.
Does this explain why the White House is pushing hard for full immunity for those telecoms who allowed for the illegal eavesdropping?
UPDATE: Kevin Drum writes:
"Unlike, say, MoveOn ads or Rush Limbaugh shows, this really does seem like a worthy object of congressional investigation, doesn't it?"