Former Qwest CEO Joseph Nacchio, who spent over four years in prison for insider trading, now says his conviction was based on his company’s refusal to cooperate with NSA requests to spy on its customers.
Nacchio says he feels “vindicated” by ongoing revelations provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that the NSA does, in fact, access massive amounts of metadata and communique information of both foreigners and Americans.
Nacchio told The Wall Street Journal that the NSA set up a meeting with him in February 2001 wherein he believed they would discuss potential government contracts. But he says the NSA instead asked him for permission to surveil Qwest customers.
He says he refused to cooperate based on advice from his lawyers that such an action would be illegal, as the NSA would not go through the normal process of asking the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for a subpoena. About this time, he says the company’s ability to win unrelated government contracts – something it did not have trouble with before the NSA meeting – slowed significantly.
It took until 2007 before Nacchio was convicted of insider trading. Prosecutors claim he was guilty of selling off Qwest stock in early 2001, not long before the company went through financial ills. Nevertheless, he claimed in court documents that he was still confident in the firm’s ability to win government contracts.
Nacchio believes his conviction was in retaliation for his refusal to play ball with legally dubious NSA spying requests.
“I never broke the law, and I never will,” Nacchio told the WSJ.
His version of events matches reporting by USA Today in 2006, in which the paper noted that Qwest was the lone holdout from the government’s warrantless surveillance operations and that defiance “might affect its ability to get future classified work with the government.”
Yet despite his efforts, Nacchio was barred from using any evidence of potential retaliation in his defense, given that the material was considered classified, and his judge refused requests to allow the evidence in trial. Reports from The Washington Post on evidence that has been made public on his case since that time seem consistent with the CEO’s claims.
As a result of his likely hobbled defense, Nacchio was indicted by federal prosecutors and served four-and-a half years in federal prisons before being released in late September.
The NSA has declined to comment on Nacchio, according to the WSJ and The Washington Post.
While spying operations disclosed by Snowden have had some level of legal backing, President George W. Bush’s wiretapping program did not. Thus, telecom companies that cooperated with the program were eventually given immunity for their compliance in 2008.