Tuesday, 26 June 2018 12:11

NSA using AT&T facilities in cities to conduct surveillance


Facilities owned by American telecommunications giant AT&T in eight US cities are being used by the NSA to monitor billions of emails, phone calls and online chats that pass through US territory.

The buildings in question are in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington DC, The Intercept  reported on Tuesday, quoting material from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

In an exhaustive article, the Intercept said its reporters had examined classified NSA documents, public records and also interviewed several former AT&T employees to establish that the eight buildings were crucial to the NSA spying plan known as FAIRVIEW.

AT&T's co-operation with the NSA went back decades with the company being praised by the spook agency for its "extreme willingness to help". NSA documents were quoted as saying AT&T was valuable not only because it had access to information that passed through the country but also because it had a range of partnerships with other providers.

These partnerships were exploited by the NSA in order to spy on communications processed by other companies.

While there are hundreds of properties owned by AT&T in the US, the eight buildings mentioned are backbone and peering facilities. Companies that peer with AT&T include Sprint, Cogent Communications, Level 3, India's Tata Communications. Italy's Telecom Italia and Germany's Deutsche Telekom.

nsa cities

The report quoted Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Centre for Justice, as saying: "“It’s eye-opening and ominous the extent to which this is happening right here on American soil. It puts a face on surveillance that we could never think of before in terms of actual buildings and actual facilities in our own cities, in our own backyards.”

While initial data exchange between AT&T and other networks takes place at points that are not under AT&T's control, the data is then sent through the eight buildings mentioned where the NSA is able to access what it wants.

The report quoted Mark Klein, a former AT&T technician of 22 years' standing, as saying it was an efficient way of conducting surveillance "because the peering links, by the nature of the connections, are liable to carry everybody’s traffic at one point or another during the day, or the week, or the year".

An NSA spokesperson, Christopher Augustine, said the agency could “neither confirm nor deny its role in alleged classified intelligence activities".

And an AT&T spokesperson, Jim Greer, said it was “required by law to provide information to government and law enforcement entities by complying with court orders, subpoenas, lawful discovery requests, and other legal requirements".

Additionally, the company provided “voluntary assistance to law enforcement when a person’s life is in danger and in other immediate, emergency situations. In all cases, we ensure that requests for assistance are valid and that we act in compliance with the law".

Graphic: courtesy The Intercept


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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.



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