The Bush administration was pressing phone-spying on Americans long before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a former phone company CEO has revealed.

According to a stunning Oct. 11 report in The Rocky Mountain News, former Qwest Communications head Joseph Nacchio says in newly unsealed court papers that his company refused a National Security Agency proposal that company lawyers considered illegal back in February 2001, nearly seven months before 9/11.

He says the NSA retaliated by depriving Qwest of lucrative contracts.

Nacchio is currently appealing a conviction for insider trading, and the new revelations were contained in documents related to his appeal.

Administration officials have claimed their domestic spying program started in response to the Sept. 11 attacks. But the court documents say the Bush administration was pressing Qwest to participate in illegal spying on Americans only weeks after taking over the White House, and long before 9/11 and its proclaimed “war on terrorism.”

Nacchio says the NSA proposal came at a meeting at NSA headquarters on Feb. 27, 2001. At the time, he was chairman of the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee, “whose members included top executives of most of the major communications companies,” according to an Oct. 14 New York Times report.

A lawsuit filed against several telecommunications companies last year charges that around the time of Nacchio’s NSA meeting, seven months before Sept. 11, AT&T “began development of a center for monitoring long distance calls and Internet transmissions and other digital information for the exclusive use of the NSA.”

A PBS “Frontline” documentary, “Cheney’s Law,” aired last week, showed how Vice President Dick Cheney has for decades pushed for unchecked presidential authority — an imperial “national security” state.

The latest revelation offers evidence that the Bush administration took advantage of the Sept. 11 tragedy to advance a pre-existing program of shredding the Constitution. Bush, Cheney and their would-be “law and order” successors like Rudy Giuliani continue to hypocritically exploit the blood and tears of 9/11 to press their right-wing agenda.

We need a Congress and president that will say “Enough!” and undo the damage.