Senators Grill AT&T CEO Over NSA Database

ByABC News
June 22, 2006, 5:45 PM

WASHINGTON, June 22, 2006 — -- Six weeks after press reports revealed that the National Security Agency maintains an enormous database of calls made within the United States, the CEO of AT&T refused to outline his company's involvement in the program, saying the information is "classified."

In a heated exchange Thursday with Judiciary Committee chairman, Senator Arlen Specter, AT&T's Edward Whitacre repeatedly declined to say whether his company provides information to the NSA.

Specter drilled Whitacre several times with increasing frustration until he finally asked, "Mr. Whitacre, are you declining to answer?"

"We follow the law," was Whitacre's repeated comeback.

The exchange between Specter and Whitacre was, to say the least, circuitous.

Specter: Does AT&T provide customer information to any law enforcement agency?
Whitacre: We follow the law, senator.
Specter: That is not an answer Mr. Whitacre, you know that.
Whitacre: That's all I'm gonnna say, is we follow the law. It is an answer. I'm telling you we don't violate the law, we follow the law.
Specter: Now, that's a legal conclusion, Mr. Whitacre. You may be right or you may be wrong, but I'm asking you for a factual matter -- does your company provide information to the federal government or any law enforcement agency, information about customers?
Whitacre: If it's legal and we're requested to do so, of course we do.
Specter: Have you?
Whitacre: All I'm going to say is we follow the law.
Specter: That's not an answer, it's not an answer, it's an evasion.
Whitacre: It's an answer.
Specter: If you're under instructions by the federal government
Whitacre: We follow the law, senator.
Specter: You've said that. I don't care to hear it again.
Whitacre: I don't care to repeat it again but we do.
Specter: Well then, don't. If you're under instructions by the federal government as a matter of state secrecy not to talk, say so.
Whitacre: Senator, we follow the law.
Specter: Well, I think that answer is contemptuous of this committee.

Whitacre eventually told Specter he could not answer the question because it asked for "classified information."