Rocky Anderson — the mayor of Salt Lake City during the 2002 Olympics — says a report of the National Security Agency monitoring the content of all email and texting in the area during the Winter Games amounts “to the greatest scandal so far of this century.”
He is furious, and is calling for prosecution by those involved — and says he is exploring a variety of legal options or lawsuits to help ensure that justice is done. He even says the United States should not be awarded any more Olympics until problems are resolved.
“When we brought the Olympics to this city, nobody agreed that we would trade off our fundamental civil rights for the government to come in and spy on us,” Anderson, a civil-rights attorney, said in an interview Friday.
He said that as he sat in meetings discussing security for the Olympics, federal officials didn’t lie about such snooping “because the issue never came up. If it had, I would have raised utter holy hell. For them to have done this to the people in Salt Lake City in every single instance was a federal felony under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.”
The Wall Street Journal cited unnamed “officials” Wednesday in reporting that the NSA and FBI arranged with Qwest Communications Inc. to monitor “the content of all email and text communications in the Salt Lake City area” for a period of less than six months around the time of the Olympics. The NSA and FBI declined requests for comment from The Tribune, as did CenturyLink, the Louisiana-based company that acquired Qwest in 2010.
No knowledge • A number of state and local officials involved in putting on the Winter Games — including then Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt — said they were provided no information about such a massive surveillance effort.
Anderson is upset that other Utah politicians seem unfazed in the face of the new report of blanket NSA spying. Gov. Gary Herbert said he’s willing to “cut them a little slack” since the Olympics came just after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and former Sen. Bob Bennett said that “if they were not intercepting text messages then they were not doing their jobs at the center of world attention.”
Anderson, who ran for U.S. president last year as nominee of the Justice Party, said such comments ignore “the question that goes to the core of what this country is and whether we live under the rule of law or the rule of tyrants,” and that is: “will people be held criminally accountable, or do we have a two-tiered system of justice where the rich and powerful can skate by.”
He added, “How do people feel about our federal government illegally, with no notice whatsoever, tapping into communications that were absolutely privileged under the law: reporters and their sources; physicians and psychiatrists with their patients; lawyers with their clients. All of that, the government thinks, it can capture because we are the host city of the Olympics?”
Rule of law • Anderson said all Salt Lakers, and Americans, should be demanding prosecution.
“If it didn’t hit a nerve with you something is very wrong. And if it didn’t hit a nerve with everyone in this city to see how our constitutional republic is being transformed in so many ways into a tyranny where the rule of law no longer means anything … the right of privacy no longer means anything,” then that is wrong.
Anderson said he is especially upset that in 2004, “two years after the NSA was spying on all our emails and texts, President [George W.] Bush told the nation that in every instance of surveillance, the government was getting wiretaps because we value the Constitution. He was lying through his teeth.”
Anderson said that while he has been an advocate to seek the Olympics in Salt Lake City again, “With this kind of misconduct by the federal government, I would absolutely oppose the Olympics coming anywhere in the United States unless we were assured that the right of privacy and law were honored by our federal government. This is a total betrayal.”
He said the United States can and should be able to provide security without such snooping.
“Security was my No. 1 concern [during the Olympics], but never at the expense of the fundamental freedoms or right of privacy of the people of this community,” he said. “We ought to keep in mind Ben Franklin’s admonition that those who would trade their liberties for security deserve neither.”