Ma Bell may pay for the NSA's sins

Ma Bell may pay for the NSA's sins

Ma Bell may pay for the NSA's sins

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 13 2006 6:08 AM

Re: Qwest Rejected

The New York Times leads with the continuing reverberations from this week's disclosure that phone companies have been willingly handing over records of domestic phone calls to the National Security Agency. The fun is only beginning for the phone companies, the story suggests, as they now face furious consumers and the likelihood of costly lawsuits and congressional hearings. The Wall Street Journal, on a similar note, tops its world-wide newsbox with word that senators are vowing increased oversight over the Defense Department's intelligence-gathering. The Washington Posttops its front page with President Bush's rightward feint on the issue of immigration, a story the NYT off-leads. The Los Angeles Times, consummating an investigative crusade, fronts news that the HMO Kaiser Permanente has suspended its kidney transplant program in Northern California after revelations of serious administrative flaws that appear to have left many desperately ill patients to die on a waiting list.

"This is not a happy day for the general counsels" of the phone companies, one law professor tells the NYT. The math is simple. Various federal statutes, going back to the 1934 Communications Act, strictly protect phone callers' privacy, and according to one expert's estimate—seconded by the WSJ's inside piece—the companies could face damages of at least $1,000 per consumer. Trial lawyers are already scurrying to file class-action lawsuits seeking billions in damages.

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The top of the NYT piece, however, zeroes in on another angle of the story: the man who said "no" to the NSA. A lawyer for Joseph Nacchio, the former CEO of Qwest, the nation's fourth-largest phone company, released a statement yesterday saying his client refused to cooperate with the program back in the fall of 2001 because of "a disinclination on the part of the authorities to use any legal process." Here's the twist: Nacchio is currently facing federal charges of insider trading stemming from a financial scandal at Qwest. It may just be coincidence, but USA Today's scoop on the NSA program, which was sourced to "people with direct knowledge of the arrangement," seems quite helpful to Nacchio's defense. In an accompanying story inside the paper, the NYT suggests that Nacchio is trying to cast himself as a champion of individual rights, which "might resonate with potential jurors in Denver, where Qwest has its headquarters and where his case may go to trial." The WSJ, similarly curious about Nacchio's motives for speaking out, adds that he could be preparing to argue that the government was maliciously prosecuting him in reprisal for refusing to go along with the snooping.

Bush is planning to give an Oval Office speech on the subject of immigration Monday evening, as the Senate takes up the issue again, and the previews suggest he'll advocate heightening border security—perhaps by deploying National Guard troops. The move is largely a concession to conservative voters and members of Congress, who disdained the president's previous squishy talk of amnesty for illegal aliens. "I think members of the House will like what the president has to say," one courageous administration official said, anonymously, at a briefing. "Karl Rove seems determined to secure the border," one mollified Republican congressman tells the NYT, "and I like the focus on results right now."

The WP fronts—and everyone else sticks inside—the latest in the "Dukestir" Affair. Yesterday, federal investigators searched the home and office of Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, who was the third-ranking official at the CIA until his resignation this week. Foggo is a childhood friend of defense contractor Brent Wilkes, who apparently did some business with the CIA and showered Foggo with gifts, including a vacation at a rented Scottish castle. Wilkes is tied in turn with disgraced ex-congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham, and apparently they all attended hotel "poker parties" where some serious enmeshing went on. Foggo, a 25-year veteran of the intelligence service, was at his office as recently as Thursday, but is now barred from returning to the CIA's headquarters.

The LAT fronts the latest in its fascinating series on a schismatic Mormon sect that lives in remote areas along the Utah-Arizona border. Largely based on interviews with onetime followers who have left the group, and with outside investigators, the series paints a shocking picture of a society in which "children routinely leave school at age 11 or 12 to work at hazardous construction jobs … girls as young as 13 are forced into marriage, sexual abuse is rampant, rape is covered up and child molesters are shielded by religious authorities and law enforcement." And that's just the start of it. Today's installment focuses on the group's "prophet," Warren Jeffs, who controls every nearly every aspect of his 10,000 followers' lives and is now on the run from the FBI.

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On its front, the NYT takes a step back and explains a controversy that has been bouncing around the inside pages of the papers for some time: the dispute between the Vatican and the Chinese government over the appointment of new bishops. The real question is whether Chinese church fathers will ultimately pay allegiance to their Politburo or the Pope.

The WP travels into the forests of central India to meet with the leader of a group of Maoist rebels that are "feeding off anti-government hostility in some rural areas and highlighting the uneven nature of India's unprecedented economic boom." After treating the rebels like "an irritant" for years, India's government is now taking them seriously. It's thought they may coordinate logistically with a similar movement in neighboring Nepal.

The U.S. government seems content to let the dollar weaken, so as to boost exports and close the trade deficit, the WSJ says in a long front-page analysis.

The WP reports that Nigerian legislators appear to have turned back President Olusegun Obasanjo's attempt to remove presidential term limits from the country's constitution, which, had the effort succeeded, would have allowed Obasanjo to rule indefinitely. It's an important victory for democracy in a populous, politically fragile, and oil-rich nation that is immensely influential on a continent better known for wars and strongman rulers. The WP stuffs the story, and no one else mentions it, so far as TP can see.

Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead, and John Snow remains the Treasury Secretary, the NYT reports.