Terrorists for Phone Carrier Choice


USA Today says it can no longer support key claims in its blockbuster May article about the National Security Agency's program of collecting customer records from major phone carriers. You'll recall that McPaper claimed AT&T, BellSouth, and Verizon had contracted with the NSA to provide bulk calling records from their customers. BellSouth and Verizon disputed that claim soon thereafter, while AT&T has since updated its privacy policy. Now USA Today says in a note to readers that it cannot prove that BellSouth and Verizon contracted with the NSA. (The paper's claims about AT&T, as well as about Verizon subsidiary MCI, appear to be unchanged.) Says USA Today:

The denial was unexpected. USA TODAY had spoken with BellSouth and Verizon for several weeks about the substance of the report. The day before the article was published, the reporter read the sections of the article concerning BellSouth and Verizon to representatives of the companies and asked for a denial before publication.

At the time, BellSouth did not deny participation in the program, but it issued a statement saying the company "does not provide any confidential customer information to the NSA or any government agency without proper legal authority." Verizon said that it would not comment on national security matters and that it acts "in full compliance with the law" and with respect for customers' privacy…

USA TODAY also spoke again with the sources who had originally provided information about the scope and contents of the domestic calls database. All said the published report accurately reflected their knowledge and understanding of the NSA program, but none could document a contractual relationship between BellSouth or Verizon and the NSA, or that the companies turned over bulk calling records to the NSA.

In the attached story, the Last Frontier's very senior senator says real Americans don't call long distance:

"It was not cross-city calls. It was not mom-and-pop calls," said Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who receives briefings as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Defense subcommittee. "It was long-distance…"

The real loser in the retraction is Qwest Communications, which, as enquiring minds know, had briefly become the terrorists' favorite phone carrier:

Of course the leftwing nuts want to point out the brave groups 'speaking to power', so they alert the terrorists to shift all their communications over to Qwest because Qwest is not partnering with the NSA to help find potential 9-11 terrorists here in the country.

Following that, um, logic, I say a country where there's even competition for the terrorist phone dollar has still got a few moves left. God bless America!

Jacob Sullum tapped into the president's claims about the program.

Jeff Taylor crank called the major carriers.

Various Reason staffers gave the NSA an earful.

Nick Gillespie identified the most disturbing if predictable facet of the story: that most Americans seemed to think having the government survey your phone records is just jim-dandy.