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Convicted Qwest chief: I blame NSA

Joe Nachio, the former chief of Denver-based Qwest Communications who was convicted on more than a dozen counts of insider trading and sent to prison for nearly five years, says the National Security Agency first blackballed his company, then federal authorities refused to allow him to explain his side when he was on trial.

All because he refused to go along with what he considered illegal surveillance programs run by the NSA.

In an interview with Denver’s CBS affiliate, Channel 4, Nachio said his troubles started in early 2001 when he was at a meeting with the NSA at the now-beleaguered federal agency’s headquarters, and he refused to go along with what he considered illegal surveillance.

“What they wanted is still classified. I can’t disclose the specifics,” he said. “In my judgment … and Qwest lawyers … it was not a legitimate request without being accompanied by a FISA warrant … or by authority from the president,” he said.

“Remember, I was chairman of the National Security Telecom Advisory committee,” he said.

He said when the request came in, “I thought it was highly peculiar.”

And regarding the legal justification?

“None was presented then or was presented later,” he said.

So he turned the federal agency down.

Shortly later, he said, he was informed that a $150 million government contract that he thought would go to his company went to another company.

And more followed, he said.

It was during that time that he had announced the sale of his own Qwest assets, and the convergence of events led the company’s stock to plunge, making it appear he was using “insider” knowledge to unload his stock.

He said that was not so, because he had announced his sales months earlier.

In the interview with reporter Rick Salinger, he said his 2007 trial was skewed in Denver because the stock-owning public directed its anger at him.

And he wasn’t allowed to explain the circumstances, he said. Such as that his company had been “blackballed” for $250 million in income right at that time.

“That would make all the world different in my criminal trial. I was not allowed to testify,” he said.

Others can think, and say, and they choose, he said.

“But it’s not their right to silence me in a criminal proceeding where I’m facing criminal sanctions,” he said. “That’s what the government did. That’s what the U.S. attorney’s office did.”

He said he wanted to testify at trial.

“But here is what I wasn’t willing to do. I wasn’t willing to testify with one arm behind my back. In other words, I wasn’t willing to testify only to things the government was going to allow me to testify about,” he said.

The jury in his case he said, “tried to do a good job. But they were denied the facts.”

The trial was before Judge Edward Nottingham, who shortly later fled the court bench in a sex scandal. Prosecutors in Denver suggested he own up to his insider trading activities.

He was chairman of Qwest from 1997 to 2002, when the case against him developed. He served more than four years behind bars and was released last year. He also repaid $65 million in restitution.

The NSA has been embroiled in scandal ever since Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor, revealed secrets about the agency’s surveillance programs, especially those that involve communications companies and target telephone calls, emails and Internet access.

Multiple lawsuits have resulted, and in once case, a federal judge in Washington ruled that the programs were unconstitutional and should be halted.

That case is pending at the appellate level at this point, after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to step in and give the government carte blanche on its spying.

The spying also has created dissension and mistrust among America’s allies overseas, since leaders of others nations also were targeted by the spying.

The CBS affiliate has posted a full 32-minute interview with Nachio.