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Context of 'February 2003: AT&T Completes Installing Equipment to Allow NSA to Monitor Domestic, International Communications'

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The NSA’s secret room in the AT&T switching center.The NSA’s secret room in the AT&T switching center. [Source: PBS]Veteran AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009) takes an informal tour of his company’s facility on San Francisco’s Folsom Street (see Late 2002), along with three other technicians from his Geary Street offices. The tour, Klein will later say, is to introduce the four technicians to the Folsom Street staff, “because they were obviously eventually planning to bring us over there.” Klein learns that the rumors of a “secret room” in the facility are true (see Fall 2002). The secret room is on the facility’s sixth floor and is being built to house some sort of equipment, but Klein is unsure exactly what that equipment might be. Klein and the others see the outer door of the secret room, and a workman working on the door “suddenly [began talking to Klein and his colleages in a] very low voice like he didn’t want to be overheard. He felt like this was something secret, you know, and he didn’t know much about it, and he was saying: ‘None of us can go in there. It’s all secret.’ This was not only an affront to the technicians; it was a violation of union rules, because they were obviously planning to install telecommunications equipment, which is supposed to be the jurisdiction of the union technicians. We had a contract. So the technicians were not only angry about this secret thing that they’re not let in on, but also the fact that there’s work there that they’re excluded from. And they were told nothing about it. So that was it.” Klein is further surprised to learn that only a single non-union technician (whom he only identifies as “Ski,” an AT&T “field support specialist” who has been granted a security clearance by the National Security Agency (NSA)), is allowed to work in the secure room. No union technicians are allowed in, even though the installation work being done is specifically contracted to the union workers. “The regular technician work force was not allowed in the room,” Klein will later state. Klein deduces that this secret room is the long-rumored NSA installation he has been hearing about. Moreover, he notes with some alarm that the room is next door to the 4ESS phone switch, “the traditional workhorse used for AT&T long-distance calls.” Klein will write, “Now my mental alarm bells were ringing, but for the moment there was nothing to do but take some mental notes, particularly since it was not clear exactly what they [the NSA and AT&T] were doing.” [Wired News, 4/7/2006; Democracy Now!, 5/12/2006; PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007; Klein, 2009, pp. 26-28] Klein will explain that he chooses not to say anything about his concerns because he is “scared for several reasons, one being, well, this is obviously secret. This is obviously some federal government secret operation that they don’t want nosy people nosing around in, and if I started asking questions I could get into trouble. Furthermore, our jobs were in jeopardy anyway, because [we] were always getting wind that they were planning to close our previous office at Geary Street, and I didn’t need to give them an excuse to fire me. So I thought after thinking about it that the best thing to do is not to say anything and just watch it.” [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007] He later learns that similar cabinets are being installed in AT&T centers in other cities, including Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles, and San Diego (see Late 2003). [Wired News, 4/7/2006] The Folsom Street facility is apparently connected to a more central surveillance facility operated out of one of AT&T’s main command centers in Missouri (see Late 2002-Early 2003).

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), AT&T, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Mark Klein, Terrorist Surveillance Program, “Ski” (AT&T field support specialist), National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

AT&T completes installing “splitter” equipment in its Folsom Street, San Francisco, facility (see January 2003), enabling the National Security Agency (NSA) to monitor a vast amount of domestic and international electronic communications over telephone and Internet connections. [Klein, 2009, pp. 34-35] Veteran AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009) later helps connect Internet circuitry to a splitting cabinet that leads into the secret room (see October 2003). In an affidavit, Klein will later state, “While doing my job, I learned that fiber optic cables from the secret room were tapping into the Worldnet (AT&T’s Internet service) circuits by splitting off a portion of the light signal.” The circuitry allows AT&T to divert traffic to and from its network from other domestic and international providers to the NSA monitoring equipment, meaning that even citizens who do not use AT&T as their provider can be monitored. [Wired News, 4/7/2006]

Entity Tags: Mark Klein, AT&T, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Senior AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009), working near the National Security Agency (NSA)‘s “secret room” in the firm’s Folsom Street, San Francisco facility (see October 2003), receives two documents pertaining to the equipment in that secret room. (In a 2007 interview with PBS, Klein will cite a third document as well, that he found lying on top of a router.) The two documents are entitled “SIMS Splitter Cut-In and Test Procedure Issue 2, 01/12/03” and “SIMS Splitter Cut-In and Test Procedure OSWF Training Issue 2 January 24, 2002.” “OSWF” stands for “On-Site Work Force.” As for “SIMS,” all Klein knows is that it is an acronym associated with the secret room. Reading over the documents, Klein realizes that they indicate the secret room contains a “splitter cabinet,” installed in February 2003 (see February 2003), containing “optical splitters” that “cut in” to signals sent through 16 “Peering Links” between AT&T and 16 other major carriers and Internet exchange points. He later recalls: “I brought them back to my desk, and when I started looking at it, I looked at it more, and I looked at it more, and finally it dawned on me sort of all at once, and I almost fell out of my chair, because this showed, first of all, what they had done, that they had taken working circuits, which had nothing to do with a splitter cabinet, and they had taken in particular what are called peering links which connect AT&T’s network with the other networks. It’s how you get the Internet, right? One network connects with another. So they took 16 high-speed peering links which go to places like Qwest [Communications] and Palo Alto Internet Exchange and places like that.… These circuits were working at one point, and the documents indicated in February 2003 they had cut into these circuits so that they could insert the splitter so that they can get the data flow from these circuits to go to the secret room. So this data flow meant that they were getting not only AT&T customers’ data flow; they were getting everybody else’s data flow, whoever else might happen to be communicating into the AT&T network from other networks. So it was turning out to be like a large chunk of the network, of the Internet.” The documents, he later says, name “the circuit IDs… the companies they belong to… [and] the cut date. And they were all in February [2003], when they were cut into the splitter” (see February 2003). The 16 carriers include ConXion, Verio, XO, Genuity, Qwest, PAIX (Palo Alto Internet Exchange), Allegiance, Abovenet, Global Crossing, C&W, UUNET, Level 3, Sprint, Telia, PSINet, and MAE West (the Metropolitan Area Exchange for AT&T’s Western region). In plain English, the splitter in the NSA room is duplicating the electronic data being sent through AT&T’s equipment, and sending the duplicated signals somewhere else, presumably to NSA computers for later processing. Klein is given the documents by a veteran AT&T technician who is preparing to retire. Klein, in a casual conversation with the colleague who gave him the documents, remarks, “It seems obvious to me, given that the secret room is next to the 4ESS (see January 2003), that they’re listening to phone calls.” Klein’s colleague shakes his head and says: “No, Internet.… I’ll show you.” (In 2007 Klein will learn from a telecommunications expert that since AT&T was transferring its long-distance telephone traffic onto Internet fiber cables, the splitter was most likely picking up both telephone and Internet traffic.) Klein’s colleague shows him the cabinet containing the splitters. Klein later tells a reporter: “[T]here were optical splitters, which basically were connected by fiber-optic cable down to the secret room on the sixth floor.… The analogy I can give you, which most people are familiar with is, say you get cable TV in your living room and then want to watch all the channels you get in the living room, you want to get all those same channels in your bedroom. So they install on the cable what they call a splitter, which splits off all the signals, duplicates of the same signals which go to the bedroom.… What the splitter does is make a duplicate copy of all the signals going across the fiber-optic cables.… We’re talking about billions and billions of bits of data going across every second, right? And it’s going into the router, and it’s coming back from the routers in that office. So what they do with the splitter is they intercept that data stream and make copies of all the data, and those copies go down on the cable to the secret room.” Klein confirms from his colleague and from the documents that show the splitters are connected directly to the equipment in the secret room. [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007; Klein, 2009, pp. 34-35]

Entity Tags: Genuity, UUNET, XO, Allegiance, Abovenet, AT&T, ConXion, Sprint/Nextel, Telia, Palo Alto Internet Exchange, MAE West, Level 3, Global Crossing, Mark Klein, National Security Agency, C&W, PSINet, Qwest

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A portion of the outer door of AT&T’s Folsom Street facility.A portion of the outer door of AT&T’s Folsom Street facility. [Source: Wired News]Senior AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009), newly assigned to the company’s Folsom Street facility in San Francisco, is tasked to work at the seventh floor “Internet room,” where AT&T manages much of its domestic Internet traffic. Klein is intensely curious about the National Security Agency’s “secret room” on the sixth floor (see January 2003). The NSA room has two doors, both labeled “641A,” and is in reality what Klein will later term “a room within a room,” with the outer room filled with ordinary “computer equipment for mundane corporate uses.” He does not know what is in the inner “secret” room. Klein will later write, “While working in the outer room, you could walk around three sides of the secret room, which I measured to be about 24 by 48 feet.” An outer door leads from Room 641A to the 4ESS switchroom, which AT&T uses to manage its long-distance telephone communications. The rooms are connected by “row after row of equipment and a tangle of cabling going up and across the ceiling.” Klein learns that the NSA room is sometimes called “the SIMS room,” an acronym of which no one seems to know the meaning. [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007; Klein, 2009, pp. 32-34] Klein will later describe his job at the Folsom Street facility as working with the phone switch equipment on the sixth floor, “which handled the public’s telephone calls and was the workhorse of the phone system.… My main assignment was to oversee the Internet room, and that meant keeping it going. If there were any trouble calls, I had to answer them. If there’s any upgrading work to do, I had to either do it or arrange for others to do it in off hours. Just oversee the flow of work in the Internet room and watch things.” He also spends a tremendous amount of time on the seventh floor, “where the Internet room was.… That’s where there are a lot of Cisco routers, a lot of fiber-optic lines coming in and going out.” The Folsom Street facility serves the Bay Area as well as much of Western America. According to Klein: “There’s lots of Internet traffic, as you can imagine, that goes in and out of this office, probably hundreds of fiber-optic lines that go out, carrying billions—that’s billions with a ‘B’—billions of bits of data going in and out every second every day. So all the Web surfing you’re doing, whatever you’re doing on the Internet—the pictures, the video, the Voice over Internet—all that stuff’s going in and out of there. And then of course there’s also the traditional phone switch, which is doing what it’s been doing since before the Internet.… Handling millions and millions of phone calls, right. That’s its job.” [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007]

Entity Tags: Mark Klein, AT&T, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

AT&T attorney Michael Kellogg enters the courtroom.AT&T attorney Michael Kellogg enters the courtroom. [Source: Wired News]The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco hears two related cases: one a government appeal to dismiss a case brought against AT&T for its involvement in the National Security Agency (NSA)‘s domestic wiretapping program (see July 20, 2006), and the other a challenge to the government’s authority to wiretap overseas phone calls brought on behalf of a now-defunct Islamic charity, Al Haramain (see February 28, 2006). The AT&T lawsuit is brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (see January 31, 2006). Among the onlookers is AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009), who has provided key documentation for the EFF lawsuit (see Early January 2006).
Government Lawyer: Court Should Grant 'Utmost Deference' to Bush Administration - Deputy Solicitor General Gregory Garre, arguing on behalf of the US government, tells Judge Harry Pregerson, one of the three judges presiding over the court, that allowing the EFF lawsuit against AT&T to go forward would result in “exceptionally grave harm to national security in the United States,” even though a previous judge has ruled otherwise (see July 20, 2006) and the government itself has admitted that none of the material to be used by EFF is classified as any sort of state secret (see June 23, 2006). Pregerson says that granting such a request would essentially make his court a “rubber stamp” for the government, to which Garre argues that Pregerson should grant the “utmost deference” to the Bush administration. Pregerson retorts: “What does utmost deference mean? Bow to it?” [Wired News, 8/15/2007] Klein will later accuse Garre of using “scare tactics” to attempt to intimidate the judges into finding in favor of AT&T and the government. [Klein, 2009, pp. 79]
Government Refuses to Swear that Domestic Surveillance Program Operates under Warrant - Garre says that the goverment’s domestic surveillance program operates entirely under judicial warrant; he says the government is not willing to sign a sworn affidavit to that effect. Reporter Kevin Poulsen, writing for Wired News, says that Garre’s admission of the government’s reluctance to swear that its domestic surveillance program operates with warrants troubles all three judges. AT&T attorney Michael Kellogg argues that AT&T customers have no proof that their communications are being given over to the government without warrants, and therefore the EFF lawsuit should be dismissed. “The government has said that whatever AT&T is doing with the government is a state secret,” Kellogg says. “As a consequence, no evidence can come in whether the individuals’ communications were ever accepted or whether we played any role in it.” EFF attorney Robert Fram argues that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) allows citizens to challenge electronic surveillance by permitting courts to hear government evidence in chambers. He is careful, Poulsen writes, to note that EFF does not want specific information on the NSA’s sources and methods, and says that EFF already has enough evidence to prove its assertion that AT&T compromised its customers’ privacy by colluding with the NSA’s domestic surveillance program.
Government Mocks Whistleblower's AT&T Documentation - Garre mocks Klein’s AT&T documents, saying that all they prove is that the NSA’s secret room in AT&T’s San Francisco facility (see Late 2002-Early 2003, January 2003, and October 2003) “has a leaky air conditioner and some loose cables in the room.” Fram counters that Klein’s documentation is specific and damning. It proves that the NSA housed a splitter cabinet in that secret room that “split” data signals, allowing the NSA to wiretap literally millions of domestic communications without the knowledge of AT&T customers (see February 2003, Fall 2003, Late 2003, and Late 2003). Fram says Klein’s documents, along with other non-classified documentation EFF has presented, proves “the privacy violation on the handover of the Internet traffic at the splitter into the secret room, which room has limited access to NSA-cleared employees. What is not part of our claim is what happens inside that room.” Klein’s documentation proves the collusion between AT&T and the NSA, Fram states, but Judge M. Margaret McKeown questions this conclusion. According to Poulsen, McKeown seems more willing to grant the government the argument that it must protect “state secrets” than Pregerson.
Government Argues for Dismissal of Al Haramain Case - As in the AT&T portion of the appeal hearing, the government, represented by Assistant US Attorney General Thomas Brody, argues for the Al Haramain lawsuit’s dismissal, saying, “The state secrets privilege requires dismissal of this case.” Even the determination as to whether Al Haramain was spied upon, he argues, “is itself a state secret.” The Top Secret government document that Al Haramain is using as the foundation of its case is too secret to be used in court, Brody argues, even though the government itself accidentally provided the charity with the document. Even the plaintiff’s memories of the document constitute “state secrets” and should be disallowed, Brody continues. “This document is totally non-redactable and non-segregable and cannot even be meaningfully described,” he says. A disconcerted Judge McKeown says, “I feel like I’m in Alice and Wonderland.” Brody concludes that it is possible the Al Haramain attorneys “think or believe or claim they were surveilled. It’s entirely possible that everything they think they know is entirely false.” [Wired News, 8/15/2007]
No Rulings Issued - The appeals court declines to rule on either case at this time. Klein will later write, “It was clear to everyone that this panel would, if they ever issued a ruling, deny the ‘state secrets’ claim and give the green light for the EFF lawsuit to go forward.” [Klein, 2009, pp. 79-81] Wired News’s Ryan Singel writes that the panel seems far more sympathetic to the EFF case than the Al Haramain case. The judges seem dismayed that the government fails to prove that no domestic surveillance program actually exists in the EFF matter. However, they seem far more willing to listen to the government’s case in the Al Haramain matter, even though McKeown says that the government’s argument has an “Alice in Wonderland” feel to it. Singel believes the government is likely to throw out the secret document Al Haramain uses as the foundation of its case. However, he writes, “all three judges seemed to believe that the government could confirm or deny a secret intelligence relationship with the nation’s largest telecom, without disclosing secrets to the world.… So seemingly, in the eyes of today’s panel of judges, in the collision between secret documents and the state secrets privilege, ‘totally secret’ documents are not allowed to play, but sort-of-secret documents—the AT&T documents—may be able to trump the power of kings to do as they will.” [Wired News, 8/15/2007] Wired News’s David Kravets notes that whichever way the court eventually rules, the losing side will continue the appeals process, probably all the way to the US Supreme Court. The biggest question, he says, is whether the NSA is still spying on millions of Americans. [Wired News, 8/15/2007]

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, US Supreme Court, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Bush administration (43), Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, AT&T, David Kravets, Ryan Singel, Thomas Brody, National Security Agency, Mark Klein, Kevin Poulsen, M. Margaret McKeown, Gregory Garre, Harry Pregerson, Robert Fram, Michael Kellogg

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The cover of Mark Klein’s ‘Wiring Up the Big Brother Machine… and Fighting It.’The cover of Mark Klein’s ‘Wiring Up the Big Brother Machine… and Fighting It.’ [Source: BookSurge / aLibris (.com)]Former AT&T technician Mark Klein self-publishes his book, Wiring Up the Big Brother Machine… and Fighting It. In his acknowledgements, Klein writes that he chose to self-publish (through BookSurge, a pay-to-publish venue) because “[t]he big publishers never called me,” and the single small publishing house that offered to publish his book added “an unacceptable requirement to cut core material.” Klein based his book on his experiences as an AT&T engineer at the telecom giant’s San Francisco facility, where he primarily worked with AT&T’s Internet service. In 2002 and 2003, Klein witnessed the construction of of a “secret room,” a facility within the facility that was used by the National Security Agency (NSA) to gather billions of email, telephone, VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol), and text messages, most of which were sent by ordinary Americans. The NSA did its electronic surveillance, Klein writes, secretly and without court warrants. Klein describes himself as “wiring up the Big Brother machine,” and was so concerned about the potential illegality and constitutional violations of the NSA’s actions (with AT&T’s active complicity) that he retained a number of non-classified documents proving the extent of the communications “vacuuming” being done. Klein later used those documents to warn a number of reporters, Congressional members, and judges of what he considered a horrific breach of Americans’ right to privacy. [Klein, 2009, pp. 9-11, 21-24, 33, 35, 38, 40] In 2007, Klein described his job with the firm as “basically to keep the systems going. I worked at AT&T for 22 and a half years. My job was basically to keep the systems going. They were computer systems, network communication systems, Internet equipment, Voice over Internet [Protocol (VoIP)] equipment. I tested circuits long distance across the country. That was my job: to keep the network up.” He explained why he chose to become a “whistleblower:” “Because I remember the last time this happened.… I did my share of anti-war marches when that was an active thing back in the ‘60s, and I remember the violations and traffic transgressions that the government pulled back then for a war that turned out to be wrong, and a lot of innocent people got killed over it. And I’m seeing all this happening again, only worse. When the [NSA] got caught in the ‘70s doing domestic spying, it was a big scandal, and that’s why Congress passed the FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] law, as you know, to supposedly take care of that (see 1978). So I remember all that. And the only way any law is worth anything is if there’s a memory so that people can say: ‘Wait a minute. This happened before.’ And you’ve got to step forward and say: ‘I remember this. This is the same bad thing happening again, and there should be a halt to it.’ And I’m a little bit of that institutional memory in the country; that’s all.” [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, AT&T, BookSurge, Mark Klein

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties


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