The National Security Agency threatened to label technology executives traitors and send them to prison if they did not collaborate with its surveillance efforts, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has told reporters.
Releasing any data about the surveillance programs would have led to criminal charges and incarceration for technology officials, Mayer said to reporters.
“If you don’t comply, it is treason,” Marissa Mayer said when asked why couldn’t be more forthcoming. “We can’t talk about it because it is classified. Releasing classified information is treason, and you are incarcerated. In terms of protecting our users, it makes more sense to work within the system.”
She claimed that Yahoo has wanted to publish details of the surveillance requests since 2007 but could not because the requests are classified. It is illegal to reveal classified information to the public.
Yahoo also unsuccessfully sued the foreign intelligence surveillance, or FISA, court, the federal court that authorizes surveillance.
Mayer wasn’t the only technology executive who was critical of the NSA at the TechCrunch Disrupt Conference in San Diego on Sept. 11. Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg told reporters that he thinks the “government blew it” on surveillance and did a bad job on balancing privacy and technology.
Zuckerberg also said the government did a poor job when news of the NSA surveillance program broke.
“The government response was, ‘Oh don’t worry, we’re not spying on any Americans.’ Oh, wonderful: that’s really helpful to companies trying to serve people around the world, and that’s really going to inspire confidence in American internet companies.”
“I thought that was really bad,” Mark Zuckerberg said.
The Guardian reported that Yahoo and Facebook will once again sue the FISA court for the right to release more information about the surveillance program. Google and Microsoft filed a similar lawsuit.
“We are not at the end of this. I wish that the government would be more proactive about communicating. We are not psyched that we had to sue in order to get this and we take it very seriously,” Zuckerberg said.
Former Telecom Executive Claimed Surveillance Predated 9/11
The executives might have been afraid of sharing the fate of former Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio. In court testimony in 2007, Nacchio claimed that the NSA was pressuring the defunct telecom Qwest (now part of CenturyLink) to allow the government agency to run warrantless wire taps six months before the September 11 attacks.
Nacchio and other Qwest executives routinely met with NSA executives in 2000 and 2001 and asked them to participate in something called “Pioneer-Groundbreaker,” court transcripts unsealed at the request of The Denver Post revealed. The transcripts indicate the NSA wanted to use Qwest’s fiber optic network in an effort to monitor telephone and Internet communications.
Joe Nacchio was hesitant to cooperate because his attorneys believed that program was illegal. Qwest attorneys wanted the NSA to get permission from the FISA court.
“They told (Qwest) they didn’t want to do that because FISA might not agree with them,” an anonymous person told USA Today.
NSA and Qwest
The NSA closely monitored Qwest’s financial health, and its officials even called Nacchio’s office when Qwest’s stock price fluctuated, a Denver Post article alleges. The same article alleges that the NSA wanted Qwest to extend its network to the Middle East in order to expand its surveillance capacities.
Joe Nacchio is not necessarily a credible source; he was later convicted of insider trading and spent four years in federal prison on those charges. Nacchio is scheduled to be released from house arrest on Sept. 21, 2013. Some observers expect Nacchio to make statements about NSA surveillance after his sentence ends.
It’ll be interesting to see what Mr. Nacchio has to say if he finally starts talking to the press.