WASHINGTON — Several years before coming to the White House and quickly replacing its relatively new phone system, Bill Clinton had the same thing done in the Arkansas statehouse.
He not only had a contractor yank out the state Capitol’s existing phone system, but he also had it modify the tracing software to remove phone numbers from long-distance billing records, WorldNetDaily has learned.
first reported in the April 27 edition of WorldNetDaily, President Clinton paid AT&T, in effect, to turn off a software feature that records the originating desk phone numbers of overseas calls from the White House, says former White House phone manager Sheryl Hall.
The motive for hiding the source of the White House phone calls is unclear.
But a former Arkansas state government department head charges that Clinton, as governor, blocked the state phone system’s caller detail to hide costly out-of-state campaign fund-raising calls that he and his aides made from his Little Rock, Ark., office.
The official speculates that dialing for dollars explains the secret phone software changes in the White House.
“More than likely, they’ve been making fund-raising calls in there and they don’t want people to find out,” said the state official, who wished to remain anonymous. “I mean, they were doing that in Arkansas.”
In late 1986, then-Arkansas Gov. Clinton awarded Garden Grove, Calif.-based Ericsson Inc. a contract to install a new telephone system for the state Capitol complex in Little Rock and some other state government facilities in Pulaski County, Ark.
In replacing the phone switching equipment, the contractor modified software so that caller detail from the PBX, or private branch exchange, in the statehouse could be masked, the official told WorldNetDaily.
The state official said long-distance call detail for the governor’s office and his top aides showed the “duration of the call and the time it was made.” But in place of the phone numbers was “a series of asterisks.”
“You couldn’t tell whose desk calls came from. There was no audit trail,” said the official, who reviewed state billing records, including those from the governor’s office.
The high-level state official says Clinton had the detail blocked to cover up evidence he and aides were calling for donations to his gubernatorial campaigns, as well as to Democrat Michael Dukakis’ presidential campaign. Clinton campaigned hard for Dukakis in 1988.
Indeed, local press reports at the time alleged that Clinton and his aides used state resources to raise cash for Dukakis. Clinton quickly put the stories behind him by promising to reimburse the state for any campaign-related costs.
But later, he refused to provide proof of payback, arguing that the records were part of his “working papers” and therefore not subject to disclosure under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.
Southwestern Bell was the Arkansas government’s long-distance carrier at the time. The Arkansas Computer Services Department ran the phone system.
‘Old’ White House system was actually ‘state-of-the-art’
In a separate development, a spokesman for the previous White House phone contractor tells WorldNetDaily that Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and other White House officials misled the public and Congress in arguing the White House phone system was old and needed to be replaced.
“The ‘old’ Northern Telecom equipment was actually a state-of-the-art digital switch that had just been installed,” said a spokesman for Nortel Networks. “It was of the DMS100F variety that is still being installed today by every major regional Bell operating company and independent telco in the domestic market, as well as internationally.”
The Northern Telecom switch, located in the basement of the Old Executive Office Building, went on line Oct. 18, 1988, he said.
So in early 1993, when Clinton complained about the existing phone system being “antique,” “old-fashioned” and “impossible,” he was referring to a four-year-old system.
The Nortel senior manager, who wished to go unnamed, recalls that the White House excuse for replacing the system was a “real sore spot” with engineers back then.
The new AT&T system (plus the 10-year service contract) cost U.S. taxpayers more than $27 million.
Hall says the White House paid AT&T an additional fee of more than $500,000 to modify the phone system software to block out caller record detail.
The Nortel executive says the fee sounds high for such work.
“Removing the originating number from the telephone set’s display or from a software record isn’t rocket science,” he said. “It can be done in any vendor’s digital telephone switch.”
A long-time phone company engineer is also skeptical, saying AT&T was likely overpaid if essentially all they did was flip a switch.
“To eliminate the call detail from the PBX stations may be easily modified and not cost that much,” said the 32-year phone veteran, who’s familiar with government networks. “That should be a standard feature on the PBX.”
He suspects that, for a half-million dollars, more substantial changes were made to eliminate the White House PBX station ID — changes that raise new and serious questions that go beyond whether the White House tried to obstruct investigators from seeing potential phone evidence under subpoena.
“If dialing patterns were changed to mask the long-distance calls, toll billing may have been avoided, thus violating FCC (Federal Communications Commission) rates and perpetrating fraud,” said the engineer, who wished to go unnamed.
“There’s nothing you can’t do if you want to with that software,” the Nortel executive added.
The phone engineer also says that, unless AT&T also changed the software in its connecting switch, it should still maintain caller record detail from the White House’s PBX system. Bell Atlantic is another connecting network that could have additional records.
In other words, investigators could subpoena the phone companies to search their connecting switches for the gaps in White House PBX caller record detail.
White House FBI agent Gary Aldrich, who left in 1996, claims the new White House phone system was so secret that even the Secret Service was in effect cut out of the loop during its installation.
“They were effectively told to ‘sit down and shut up.’ The system was installed without any of the usual input or approval from the Secret Service,” Aldrich quotes a “White House telephone company official” as saying in his 1996 book “Unlimited Access.”
Aldrich maintains that, early on, David Watkins and Patsy Thomasson were the Clinton political appointees who tried to shut out the Secret Service. They directed and guarded the installation of the new phone system. Watkins was director of White House management and administration and Thomasson was his deputy. Both have since left the White House.
In a recent interview, Hall said that by 1995, when she inherited the phone system, the contractors were meeting the security code requirements that the “Secret Service dictated to them.”