For civil liberties advocates, the first week of March 2008 wasn’t shaping up very well. For months, the House of Representatives had been wrangling to work out a compromise bill for a pressing issue – anti-terrorist spying legislation. That political hot-button guaranteed a tremendous amount of media coverage, as the bill represents Congress’ response to the “domestic spying” scandal plastered on the front pages of newspapers for years – proof that the Bush administration had violated the privacy rights of American citizens by circumventing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requirements to secure judicial warrants to target monitor citizen’s communications.
Additionally, the bill also granted full immunity to those telecommunication companies which took part in the warrant-less wiretapping. Passage of the bill was imminent – major media outlets proclaimed an agreement was near in the House that included such immunity.
That’s when GAP helped our client, Babak Pasdar, educate our representatives on the full scope of what information certain telecoms provided to the Bush administration. In a word – everything. Pasdar’s disclosures shocked Congress, and delayed the vote.
The “Quantico Circuit”
Pasdar, a experienced computer expert, was hired as a contractor to do security work for a major telecommunications company. In doing so, he discovered a mysterious “Quantico Circuit” at the company’s facility (media sources identified the telecom as Verizon). The circuit, linked to Quantico, VA, provided the federal government unfettered access to all of that company’s customer mobile phone communications – all calls, emails, text messages, internet use, videos, billings, and even customer locations. However, the line was configured so no record of what was being tapped by the government existed.
Pasdar stated that logs should be kept of what was recorded, but he was quickly moved off the project. When the telecommunications immunity vote seemed imminent, he knew he had to expose his finding to the country before judgment was passed. How could any immunity be reasonable, or just, if the full violations were not known? Pasdar sought help from GAP.
In the days before the vote, GAP sent an affidavit by Pasdar detailing his allegations to key House members. GAP’s efforts to share Pasdar’s story focused on questions that had to be answered in order for Congress to make an informed decision. Just who was at the end of the Quantico Circuit? What information had they been obtaining? Does such access comport with long-standing federal law? Was the circuit legal?
Armed with and alarmed by Pasdar’s affidavit, House Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell, Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak, and Telecommunications Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey together sent a ‘Dear Colleagues’ letter to all other representatives about Pasdar’s disclosures. In that letter, Dingell trumpeted the importance of the disclosures. According to ABCNews.com, Dingell asserted that “Our attempts to verify and investigate” Pasdar’s claims have been “blocked at every turn by this administration,” adding that he “urged his colleagues not to vote before they have sufficient facts.” The House subsequently voted 214-195 to reject blanket immunity for the telecoms.
Pasdar and GAP are credited for alerting the masses to this awful privacy violation, and for persuading House Republicans not to grant immunity to the telecoms.
Three months later however, in June 2008, despite many efforts against it by GAP and a slew of coalition partners, the House voted to approve the retroactive immunity measure for telecoms.
Although that civil liberties battle was lost, a victory for transparency emerged during the process. It is essential that any wrongdoing performed by federal agencies and corporations be revealed to the public – regardless of whether such improper behavior is wrongfully justified legally or not. GAP believes that it is essential for democracy that a federal government operate in as transparent a way as possible. Whistleblowers, such as Pasdar, who alert the public to past violations of law, are essential for overall accountability and future rectifications of such actions.