(Host) A prominent Vermont lawyer who represents a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is concerned that his phone may be tapped by the federal government.
The issue came up today before the Public Service Board.
VPR’s John Dillon reports:
(Dillon) More than a year ago, the Public Service Board launched an investigation into whether phone companies have improperly turned over customer information to the government as part of a massive surveillance program.
The companies want the board to put its investigation on hold. But the state and the American Civil Liberties Union want to know if consumer protection laws were violated.
At a hearing Tuesday, ACLU lawyer Richard Saudek says the question may no longer be an abstract one.
(Saudek) "We now have a person, an attorney, who has come to the ACLU and said he believes that his phone has been tapped. And I can tell you who it is. It’s Bob Gensburg, who has taken on the defense of a prisoner at Guantanamo."
(Dillon) Saudek said Gensburg has to call Afghanistan and other places to help his client. Yet his phone has acted strangely, Saudek said. The line’s gone dead and strange buzzing sounds are heard. And then this summer, the lines seemed literally crossed.
(Saudek) "His home phone rang and his wife answered it and nobody was on the line except she could hear him and a client talking."
(Dillon) Gensburg declined to comment, but referred questions to his lawyer, David Sleigh.
(Sleigh) "Given that he has nevert experienced this sort of phenomenon prior to his representation of a client at Guantanamo, and given the government’s acknowledged pursuit of warrant-less wiretaps, it’s something that is of great concern to us."
(Dillon) According to Sleigh, Verizon investigated the phone problems. And a technician wrote in a memo two parts of the wire were transposed at some point along the line. Gensburg was credited $4.42 for the phone troubles.
Sleigh said the memo is remarkable for its lack of detail. It doesn’t say how the lines were transposed, whether it was done deliberately, or why.
He says Gensburg, who practices in St. Johnsbury, is a well known lawyer who does not have a paranoid streak.
(Sleigh) "Bob has over 30 years of stellar legal practice. He is the least likely person to jump to conclusions. It was only after this sort of disturbing phenomena occurred and that a subsequent follow up confirmed that there had been some unexplained physical manipulation of his phone line that caused us to take the next step."
(Dillon) Meanwhile, the Public Service Board must decide whether to proceed with the state investigation.
Lawyers for AT&T and Verizon said they want the case delayed, because the federal government has sued to block Vermont and other states from pursuing similar investigations. They didn’t respond to Saudek’s allegations at the hearing.
And a Verizon spokeswoman told VPR it doesn’t comment on national security issues.
Saudek and a lawyer for the state said the case should go ahead. Saudek said the government has already acknowledged the domestic surveillance program. In an interview last month with a Texas newspaper, National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell said the phone companies had supplied customer information to the government
For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.