The latest news leak, regarding National Security Agency (NSA) communications intelligence activities, with the cooperation of AT&T, has not only given al Qaeda an edge, it places civilians at risk in more ways than one. The telecommunications giant AT&T is now in the midst of a court battle due to the claims of a "whistleblower" who claims that the company cooperated with NSA eavesdropping on suspected terrorists. A ruling is pending on whether certain documents provided to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, via a former AT&T employee, that are currently under seal, will be released.
This represents a shift in tactics - going from attacking the government agencies, to the going after corporations the agencies work with. The reasoning is simple: Corporations are softer targets, in more ways than one. Targeting corporations to reduce cooperation with the NSA is relatively easy to do in a number of ways. First, the corporations tend to think in terms of the bottom line. This can be adversely effected by anything from bad publicity (often caused by protests). Also, corporations with a heavy foreign presence will shrink away from public recognition - because while al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups might not be able to reach the U.S. military, they can reach the corporate employees - either those in-country, or those there on travel. Hostage situations - or having employees murdered - not only lead to bad publicity, the company also can get a morale problem very quickly. Finally, a campaign of violence against the company can place it under tremendous stress until it capitulates to demands. In one such example, an animal-rights group known as SHAC forced over 150 companies in both the UK and US (including Citibank and Xerox) to stop doing business with Huntingdon Life Sciences in a campaign of terror in both the UK and the United States that has been ongoing since 1999. This halted life-saving medical research. Since 1975, unions in disputes with companies have often targeted workers, who did not strike, with violence, culminating in the murder of an independent contractor in 1993, and the 1997 stabbing of a UPS driver who crossed a picket line. On occasion, this has led companies to give in to union demands in order to end the labor dispute.
This is another case where lawfare is being used in an effort to gum up the intelligence community. This time, it is seeking to reduce or eliminate the cooperation between the intelligence community and telecommunications companies by opening these companies to violence. This would give al Qaeda and other groups secure communications - something that is vital for them to carry out successful large-scale operations. This lawfare, though, adds even more risk than just a successful al Qaeda attack. Now, AT&T and its employees will be targets of the group. Al Qaeda has every incentive to make an example of some people who cooperate with the U.S. government, due to the pressure it has been under lately, with a deteriorating strategic situation in Iraq and facing a Pakistani offensive in Waziristan. This new lawfare could give al Qaeda a lifeline. - Harold C. Hutchison (firstname.lastname@example.org)