Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio

Former Qwest Corporation (NYSE:CTQ) CEO Joe Nacchio spoke with FOX Business Network’s (FBN) Maria Bartiromo during Opening Bell with Maria Bartiromo about Qwest Corporation (NYSE:CTQ)’s refusal to participate in a National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance program in 2001. Nacchio said, “My downfall, if I can use that term, began on February 27, 2001 when I was invited to a meeting at Fort Meade, which is NSA headquarters…at the end of that meeting, another request was made.  I found that request to be peculiar.  I didn’t think it was legal.  I asked for legal justification and we never got it, and therefore we never did it.  And that was the moment that things turned down for me.” When asked whether his situation is comparable to that of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, Nacchio said, “I did not choose to break a law to prove that I didn’t break a different law so I think there are big differences between myself and Snowden.”

Excerpts from the report are below.

On whether he was asked to turn over data and customer information while at Qwest:

“That’s what ultimately has been reported in the press.  When I say deeply involved, in order for our government to do its intelligence work, to prosecute military actions, it’s required that the kind of technologies we put in the ground are part of their infrastructure.  But because they’re in the private sector hands we have to be invited in and cleared to work with them.  Now, that’s how it started.  What happened subsequent to that is a lot of information could be gathered from these companies, companies like mine.  And we started getting requests for that.  And my downfall, if I can use that term, began on February 27, 2001 when I was invited to a meeting at Fort Meade, which is NSA headquarters, and it was a legitimate meeting, legitimate classified project, and then at the end of that meeting, another request was made.  I found that request to be peculiar.  I didn’t think it was legal.  I asked for legal justification and we never got it, and therefore we never did it.  And that was the moment that things turned down for me.”

On whether Quest was the one major telecom company that would not agree to turn over data:

“Well, actually, what was reported, which was the story that broke in 2006 I think by USA Today was a different request for the turning over of telephone records, and that was a story that did not come from me or anybody I know at Quest.  I was gone by then.  And that story said we refused to turn over telephone records, but that’s not what I was talking about on February 27.   And I think it’s important to note that on February 27, 2001, it’s 7.5 months prior to 9/11.  Now, remember, we’ve been told that all of this, “surveillance activity of the American public began as a result of 9/11.”  I would challenge that.  Now, I’m not saying anybody — I’m not saying who knew it was happening.  I’m just saying I was confronted with something that I thought was clearly a violation of the law and I have a responsibility to my shareowners and I have a responsibility as a citizen not to break the law.”

On whether the surveillance began more than seven months before September 11:

“Well, let me be careful.  I can’t say what they asked us to do.  I can only tell you what they asked us to do was something I believed was not legal.”

On whether his situation is comparable to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden:

“I think there are some comparisons but there are stark differences. First, what Snowden revealed and he did violate a law by revealing it, was legitimate authorized legal intelligence operations based upon authority they received by an act of Congress. He broke his clearance, he potentially harmed the country, that’s an illegal act and I feel badly for him for having done that. Whether we like the public policy issue or not is a different issue but what they were doing is legal. What I’m talking about is something that was, in my opinion, not legal and prior to 9/11. Secondly, unlike Snowden, I held my obligation never to disclose, I took a trial, I didn’t take the stand, I paid a big financial price, paid a big personal price going to prison and I did not choose to break a law to prove that I didn’t break a different law so I think there are big differences between myself and Snowden. The general topic I would say is the same although I can’t, again, tell you what was specifically asked of me back in 2001.”

On what he thought when he heard about the Snowden revelations:

“When I heard about him, it was no news to me. Matter of fact, I think the focus that this is about telephone records and telephone companies is too narrow. This is about the electronic age, any electronic medium you’re using, your smart phones, Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR), Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG), Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB), are getting monitored.”

On whether he’s worried that after doing today’s television interview he could get sent back to jail:

“I hope not and I shouldn’t be. I spent the last five months since I came out writing down specifically what I wanted to say and everything I said today comes out of redacted court transcripts where the government already redacted the classified information, I hired a lawyer, submitted it to the agency to help my clearance, three weeks ago they cleared me to say what I’m saying today so I hope nobody perceives that I should be further punished. If they do I guess we’ll be back in court making that fight.”

On how tough it was to be in prison:

“It was very tough being away from the family, it was very tough for the last 12 years getting pounded by the press on a case that was totally misdirected by the government and being viewed as a bad guy but I’m over that. Prison is a tough place to be, I don’t care what people tell you – there’s no such thing as a Club Fed, anybody who thinks there’s a Club Fed I can give them a couple of places they ought to go to, It’s a tough world and I am in an adjustment period now. I think I’m adjusting fine.”