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Profile: Cox Communications

Cox Communications was a participant or observer in the following events:

An internal FBI audit reveals that US telecommunications companies have repeatedly terminated FBI access to wiretaps of suspected terrorists and other criminal suspects because bureau officials failed to pay outstanding phone bills. The report, written by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine, finds that over half of the nearly 1,000 telecommunications bills reviewed by investigators were not paid on time. One unidentified field office allowed a $66,000 invoice to go unpaid. In another instance, a wiretap conducted under a FISA warrant was terminated because of “untimely payment.” The report notes, “Late payments have resulted in telecommunications carriers actually disconnecting phone lines established to deliver surveillance results to the FBI, resulting in lost evidence.” [Washington Post, 1/11/2008] Some of the problems stem from telecoms billing multiple times for single surveillance warrants, which ratchets up the bills quickly. Cox Communications, for example, billed the FBI $1,500 for a single, 30-day wiretap order. Telecoms also bill the FBI for Internet connections and phone lines connecting the carrier’s wiretap-ready switches with the FBI’s own wiretap software system, known as the Digital Collection System. Each field office’s computers are connected together with the other offices, and with FBI headquarters, through a secure fiber optic network managed by Sprint. In some cases, FBI officials were confused about whether to use confidential case funds or general funds to pay the telecom bills. Sometimes they were so confused that when the telecoms sent refunds, the officials returned the refunds to the carriers. [Wired News, 1/10/2008] The report faults the agency for poor handling of money used in undercover investigations, which it says makes the agency vulnerable to theft and mishandled invoices. [Reuters, 1/10/2008] This is the latest in a string of audits by Fine’s office that has found serious financial and management problems at the bureau. FBI spokesman Richard Kolko says that in every case the outstanding bills were eventually paid and the intercepted information was recovered. “No evidence was lost in these cases,” he says. FBI assistant director John Miller blames an “inadequate” financial management system for the failures to pay telecom bills. Previous reports have noted a persistent failure to account for hundreds of computers and weapons, and a pattern of careless bookkeeping that spans a much wider area than the wiretapping program. The audit itself, a detailed, 87-page document, is too sensitive for public release, says the Justice Department, and only a seven-page summary is released. The American Civil Liberties Union calls on the FBI to release the entire document. ACLU counsel Michael German, himself a former FBI agent, questions the motives of the telecom firms, who in many instances have allowed the government to operate wiretaps on their systems without court warrants. “It sounds as though the telecoms believe it when the FBI says the warrant is in the mail, but not when they say the check is in the mail,” he says. [Washington Post, 1/11/2008]

Entity Tags: Glenn Fine, American Civil Liberties Union, Cox Communications, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Sprint/Nextel, Mike German, US Department of Justice, Digital Collection System, Richard Kolko, John Miller

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In the hours following the New York Times’s article about the Pentagon’s propaganda operation using retired military officers to promote the Iraq war and the Bush administration’s policies (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond), a number of press officials express their concerns over the operation and the media’s role in it. The report “raises a red flag,” says Cox Newspapers bureau chief Andy Alexander. The editorial page editors at the Times and the Washington Post, both of which have published op-eds by some of the same retired officers cited in the Times story, say the report raises concerns about such access. The Times’s editorial page editor, Andrew Rosenthal, says, “It makes you suspicious, absolutely.” Rosenthal’s bureau printed at least nine op-eds by some of the generals cited in the report. “When generals write for you now, you have to look at that. But you have to do that anyway. Anybody who participated in that program has to be scrutinized more closely.” Rosenthal’s counterpart at the Post, Fred Hiatt, whose pages have run at least one such op-ed, says, “Retired generals are entitled to speak out like anyone else, but I would have the same expectation of them to disclose anything that might be relevant.” He goes on to defend the Post op-ed, written by retired general Barry McCaffrey, saying that McCaffrey’s words demonstrate his independence from the propaganda operation. Rosenthal also defends his paper’s publication of the nine op-eds and also states that the writers clearly demonstrate their independence. Rosenthal refuses to divulge the names of eight of the nine op-ed authors. Neither the Times nor the Post ever disclosed the close ties their writers maintained with the Pentagon, nor did they disclose their ties to an array of military contractors. Rosenthal says that such connections are irrelevant because their op-eds were not necessarily about Iraq: “There is no instance in which a general who attended a briefing at the Pentagon repeated it on our Op-Ed pages.” He also says that none of the authors have any conflicts in their business relationships. The Times will probably continue to use retired officers for commentary, Rosenthal says. McClatchy News bureau chief John Walcott says that as long as the public knows who is writing a particular op-ed and what their connections are, publishing material from retired military officers is acceptable: “The reader is entitled to know where this or that commentator is coming from on an issue. It doesn’t necessarily disqualify them from commentating, it must be transparent.” [Editor & Publisher, 4/21/2008]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Andy Alexander, Andrew Rosenthal, Barry McCaffrey, Bush administration (43), Cox Communications, Fred Hiatt, Washington Post, McClatchy News, New York Times, John Walcott

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

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