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Conyers Wants Info On Pre-9/11 Wiretapping Claims

House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) has asked two top intelligence officials to brief his committee about the validity of claims that the National Security Agency had asked Qwest Communications for customer call records as early as February 2001 - seven months before the 9/11 terrorist attacks - and punished the firm for refusing to comply.

Conyers sent letters to National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell and Ken Wainstein, the assistant attorney general for national security, asking them to come brief his committee about revelations in a New York Times story over the weekend.

According to the story, former Qwest CEO Joseph P. Nacchio, who was convicted of insider trading in April, filed court papers alleging NSA officials first approached his company to secure call records in February 2001. Administration officials claimed the NSA and other agencies didn't request this information until after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Conyers and his panel would likely grill McConnell and Wainstein about the extent of information-sharing between phone companies and the various intelligence agencies, a reportedly long-standing but largely unknown practice.

Disclosures about information sharing would pressure the White House and congressional Republicans to back off its request for retroactive immunity to legislation updating the current warrantless wiretapping laws. That immunity would protect the companies that now face numerous lawsuits for sharing information with those intelligence agencies.