Just one major telecommunications company refused to participate in a legally dubious NSA surveillance program in 2001. A few years later, its CEO was indicted by federal prosecutors. He was convicted, served four and a half years of his sentence and was released this month.Of course, federal prosecutors continue to claim Joseph Nacchio's prosecution had nothing to do with his nonconformity with the NSA's desire to spy on Qwest's customers without the permission of the FISC. But rather, he was prosecuted because the government claimed he was guilty of insider trading. To this day, Nacchio insists that the charges were bogus, and that he was thrown in jail for refusing to break the law on the NSA's behalf. Subsequently, he also feels vindicated by Edward Snowden's recent disclosures.
After his release from custody Sept. 20, Nacchio told the Wall Street Journal that he feels "vindicated" by the content of the leaks that show that the agency was collecting American's phone records.With his sense of vindication, Nacchio no doubt joins a select group of whistleblowers who felt the same way after Snowden began releasing documented evidence of the NSA's ubiquitous warrantless surveillance programs.
Nacchio was convicted of selling of Qwest stock in early 2001, not long before the company hit financial troubles. However, he claimed in court documents that he was optimistic about the firm's ability to win classified government contracts — something they'd succeeded at in the past. And according to his timeline, in February 2001 — some six months before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — he was approached by the NSA and asked to spy on customers during a meeting he thought was about a different contract. He reportedly refused because his lawyers believed such an action would be illegal and the NSA wouldn't go through the FISA Court. And then, he says, unrelated government contracts started to disappear.Apparently, U.S. hegemonic power isn't only for stubborn nation-states anymore.
A 2006 report in USA Today matched Nacchio's narrative regarding the NSA's warrantless surveillance program. The report noted that Qwest was the lone holdout from agreeing to participate in the program, and Nacchio was hounded by the agency with not-so-subtle hints that his company's refusal to comply, "might affect its ability to get future classified work with the government." But since the government based his court case on alleged inside trading, Nacchio was precluded from bringing up any of this defense during his jury trial because the government claimed the evidence Nacchio needed to support his claim was deemed classified information. The judge ultimately refused his requests to allow it.
Nacchio still believes his prosecution was retaliatory for refusing the NSA requests for bulk access to customers' phone records. Some other observers share that opinion, and it seems consistent with evidence that has been made public, including some of the redacted court filings unsealed after his conviction.Both the NSA and the DoJ still have not publicly commented on the Nacchio case.
It's important that we not lose sight of the fact that while both Snowden and Nacchio acted in earnest to limit or stop government programs that they [rightly] determined were both illegal and fundamentally unconstitutional -- the two men took two distinctly different paths. Nacchio actually went through all relevant legal channels to retrieve information to bolster his trial defense. Ultimately, the system swallowed him. Just like it would Edward Snowden... if ever given half a chance.
I guess we'll never find out is Nacchio was really guilty of insider trading. But one thing we do know is that Nacchio saw what he deemed government wrongdoing, and he acted on it -- losing both his company and four and a half years of his life in the process.
And I believe he should be lauded as a patriot.