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Context of 'December 10, 2005: Bush Says US Obtains Court Warrants before Mounting Surveillance Efforts; Former AT&T Technician Disputes Claim'

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A sample page from Mark Klein’s AT&T documentation.A sample page from Mark Klein’s AT&T documentation. [Source: Mark Klein / Seattle Times]Senior AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009), gravely concerned by the National Security Agency (NSA) spying operation going on in AT&T’s San Francisco facility (see October 2003) and now in possession of documents which prove the nature and scope of the telecommunications surveillance activities (see Fall 2003 and Late 2003), writes a memo summarizing his findings and conclusions. He appends eight pages of the unclassified documents he has in his possession, along with two photographs and some material from the Internet which documents the sophisticated surveillance equipment being used to gather data from AT&T’s electronic transmissions. The NSA and AT&T were, he later says, “basically sweeping up, vacuum-cleaning the Internet through all the data, sweeping it all into this secret room.… It’s the sort of thing that very intrusive, repressive governments would do, finding out about everybody’s personal data without a warrant. I knew right away that this was illegal and unconstitutional, and yet they were doing it.… I think I’m looking at something Orwellian. It’s a government, many-tentacled operation to gather daily information on what everybody in the country is doing. Your daily transactions on the Internet can be monitored with this kind of system, not just your Web surfing. All kinds of business that people do on the Internet these days—your bank transactions, your email, everything—it sort of opens a window into your entire private life, and that’s why I thought of the term ‘Orwellian.’ As you know, in [George] Orwell’s story [1984], they have cameras in your house, watching you. Well, this is the next best thing.… So I was not only angry about it; I was also scared, because I knew this authorization came from very high up—not only high up in AT&T, but high up in the government. So I was in a bit of a quandary as to what to do about it, but I thought this should be halted.”
Gathering 'the Entire Data Stream' - In his memo, Klein concludes that the NSA is using “splitter” equipment to copy “the entire data stream [emphasis in the original] and sent it to the [NSA’s] secret room for further analysis.” Klein writes that the splitters actually “split off a percentage of the light signal [from the fiber optic circuits] so it can be examined. This is the purpose of the special cabinet… circuits are connected into it, the light signal is split into two signals, one of which is diverted to the ‘secret room.’ The cabinet is totally unnecessary for the circuit to perform—in fact, it introduces problems since the signal level is reduced by the splitter—its only purpose is to enable a third party [the NSA] to examine the data flowing between sender and recipient on the Internet.” (Emphasis in the original.) In his book, Klein will explain that “each separate signal,” after being split, “contains all the information, nothing is lost, so in effect the entire data stream has been copied.” He will continue: “What screams out at you when examining this physical arrangement is that the NSA was vacuuming up everything flowing in the Internet stream: email, Web browsing, voice-over-Internet phone calls, pictures, streaming video, you name it. The splitter has no intelligence at all, it just makes a blind copy.” Klein later explains to a reporter: “The signals that go across fiber optics are laser light signals. It’s light basically that runs through a fiber optic, which is a clear glass fiber, and it has to be at a certain level for the routers to see the light and interpret the data correctly. If the light gets too low, just as if you get a weak flashlight with bad batteries, at a certain point it doesn’t work. If the light level drops too low, the router starts dropping bits and getting errors, and eventually you get loss of signal, and it just doesn’t work at all.… The effect of the splitter is to reduce the strength of the signal, and that may or may not cause a problem, depending on how much the signal is reduced.” A telecommunications company would not, as a rule, use such a splitter on its backbone Internet traffic because of the risk of degraded signal quality. “You want to have as few connections on your main data lines as possible,” Klein will say, “because each connection reduces the signal strength, and a splitter is a connection, and if you can avoid that, all the better.”
Inherently Illegal - Klein will explain that there is no way these activities are legal: “There could not possibly be a legal warrant for this, since according to the Fourth Amendment, warrants have to be specific, ‘particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.’ It was also a blatant violation of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [FISA—see 1978], which calls for specific warrants as required by the Fourth Amendment. This was a massive blind copying of the communications of millions of people, foreign and domestic, randomly mixed together. From a legal standpoint, it does not matter what they claim to throw away later in their secret rooms, the violation has already occurred at the splitter.” [AT&T, 12/10/2002; AT&T, 1/13/2003; AT&T, 1/24/2003; Wired News, 5/22/2006; PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007; Klein, 2009, pp. 37, 119-133]
The Narus STA 6400 - Klein discusses one key piece of equipment in the NSA’s secret room, the Narus STA 6400 (see Late 2003). Narus is a firm that routinely sells its equipment not only to telecom firms such as AT&T, “but also to police, military, and intelligence officials” (see November 13-14, 2003). Quoting an April 2000 article in Telecommunications magazine, Klein writes that the STA 6400 is a group of signal “traffic analyzers that collect network and customer usage information in real time directly from the message.… These analyzers sit on the message pipe into the ISP [Internet Service Provider] cloud rather than tap into each router or ISP device.” Klein quotes a 1999 Narus press release that says its Semantic Traffic Analysis (STA) technology “captures comprehensive customer usage data… and transforms it into actionable information… [it] is the only technology that provides complete visibility for all Internet applications.” The Narus hardware allows the NSA “to look at the content of every data packet going by, not just the addressing information,” Klein will later write.
A 'Dream Machine for a Police State' - Klein later writes of the Narus STA 6400: “It is the dream machine of a police state, one that even George Orwell could not imagine. Not only does it enable the government to see what millions of people are saying and doing every day, but it can build up a database which reveals the connections among social groups—who’s calling and emailing whom. Such a device can easily be turned against all dissident protest groups, and even the Democratic and Republican parties, with devastating effect. And it’s in the hands of the executive power, in total secrecy.” [AT&T, 12/10/2002; AT&T, 1/13/2003; AT&T, 1/24/2003; Wired News, 5/22/2006; Klein, 2009, pp. 37-40] In support of the memo and an ensuing lawsuit against AT&T (see January 31, 2006), Klein will later write: “Despite what we are hearing, and considering the public track record of this administration, I simply do not believe their claims that the NSA’s spying program is really limited to foreign communications or is otherwise consistent with the NSA’s charter or with FISA. And unlike the controversy over targeted wiretaps of individuals’ phone calls, this potential spying appears to be applied wholesale to all sorts of Internet communications of countless citizens.” [Wired News, 4/7/2006]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Narus, Mark Klein, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, AT&T

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

At a speech in Hershey, Pennsylvania, supporting the USA Patriot Act (see October 26, 2001), President Bush tells listeners that all US surveillance efforts are done with warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court: “For years, law enforcement used so-called roving wire taps to investigate organized crime. You see, what that meant is if you got a wire tap by court order—and, by the way, everything you hear about requires court order, requires there to be permission from a FISA court, for example.… See, with court approval, we have long used roving wire taps to lock up monsters—mobsters. Now [with the Patriot Act in effect] we have a chance to lock up monsters, terrorist monsters.” [White House, 4/19/2004] The next day, Bush makes a similar claim during another pro-Patriot Act speech in Buffalo. He tells listeners: “[T]here are such things as roving wiretaps. Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires—a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order before we do so. It’s important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution. But a roving wiretap means—it was primarily used for drug lords. A guy, a pretty intelligence drug lord would have a phone, and in old days they could just get a tap on that phone. So guess what he’d do? He’d get him another phone, particularly with the advent of the cell phones. And so he’d start changing cell phones, which made it hard for our DEA types to listen, to run down these guys polluting our streets. And that changed, the law changed on—roving wiretaps were available for chasing down drug lords. They weren’t available for chasing down terrorists, see? And that didn’t make any sense in the post-9/11 era. If we couldn’t use a tool that we’re using against mobsters on terrorists, something needed to happen. The Patriot Act changed that. So with court order, law enforcement officials can now use what’s called roving wiretaps, which will prevent a terrorist from switching cell phones in order to get a message out to one of his buddies.” [White House, 4/20/2004] Former AT&T senior technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009 and May 2004), who helped install the equipment used by the National Security Agency (NSA) and his firm to intercept foreign and domestic Internet communications (see January 16, 2004), will later say that Bush’s insistence that the administration gets court orders before wiretapping communications is false. AT&T, on behalf of the NSA, was monitoring “billions of messages a second,” Klein will write, all without court orders. [Klein, 2009, pp. 47-48] Klein will call Bush’s description of the surveillance program “disingenuous,” and continue: “They present it as about phone calls. They’re just watching a few bad people who make phone calls to al-Qaeda and the Middle East, and you notice they don’t talk about the Internet hardly at all. That part of it hasn’t been revealed, because if they did, Americans would realize it’s not just a few people; it’s everybody, because the data they’re handing over is not selected out. When you run fiber optics through a splitter and you send all that data to a secret room, there’s no selecting going on there at all.… They have no way of sifting it out unless they look through it later. Now they can claim, ‘Oh, we are right as rain; we’re only doing the legal thing and selecting out a few people that we’re legally entitled to,’ but that’s only after they get all the data. The analogy I use: If the government claims: ‘Well, when you do your taxes, why don’t you just write me a blank check and we’ll fill in the amount? Don’t worry. We’ll do it legal. We’ll fill in the right amount,’ would you do that? Nobody would trust the government by writing a blank check to them. It’s the same thing with the data we’re giving them.… [T]he Fourth Amendment specifically bans general warrants. It calls for specific warrants in which the things to be seized and the persons to be seized are specifically named. There’s a reason for that. It’s to protect against arbitrary government power. And what they’ve done is to trample over the Fourth Amendment by basically instituting a general warrant on the Internet.” [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007]

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Mark Klein, National Security Agency, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Senior AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009) accepts a buyout package from his firm and retires. Klein, disheartened by the illegal AT&T/NSA wiretapping operation he has documented (see January 16, 2004), decides to keep the documents he has collected over the years (see Fall 2003 and Late 2003), the “hard proof” of the operation, he will later write, “in case there was some change in the political winds that would enable me to come forward and expose… the crimes which I knew were being committed.” [Klein, 2009, pp. 44]

Entity Tags: Mark Klein, AT&T

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In a Columbus, Ohio, speech praising the USA Patriot Act (see October 26, 2001), President Bush claims that when US government agencies wiretap anyone’s phones or email communications, they do so with a court order. Bush says: “Before the Patriot Act, agents could use wiretaps to investigate a person committing mail fraud, but not to investigate a foreign terrorist. The Patriot Act corrected all these pointless double standards—and America is safer as a result. One tool that has been especially important to law enforcement is called a roving wiretap. Roving wiretaps allow investigators to follow suspects who frequently change their means of communications. These wiretaps must be approved by a judge, and they have been used for years to catch drug dealers and other criminals. Yet, before the Patriot Act, agents investigating terrorists had to get a separate authorization for each phone they wanted to tap. That means terrorists could elude law enforcement by simply purchasing a new cell phone. The Patriot Act fixed the problem by allowing terrorism investigators to use the same wiretaps that were already being using against drug kingpins and mob bosses. The theory here is straightforward: If we have good tools to fight street crime and fraud, law enforcement should have the same tools to fight terrorism.” [White House, 6/9/2005] Bush made almost identical claims a year ago (see April 19-20, 2004). The same day as Bush makes his speech, the White House issues a fact sheet making the same claims (see June 9, 2005). Former AT&T senior technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009 and May 2004), who helped install the equipment used by the National Security Agency (NSA) and his firm to intercept foreign and domestic Internet communications (see January 16, 2004), will later say that Bush’s insistence that the administration gets court orders before wiretapping communications is false. AT&T, on behalf of the NSA, was monitoring “billions of messages a second,” Klein will write, all without court orders. [Klein, 2009, pp. 47-48]

Entity Tags: Mark Klein, George W. Bush, National Security Agency, USA Patriot Act

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In his weekly radio address, President Bush claims that the US always obtains court warrants before launching electronic surveillance efforts. “The Patriot Act is helping America defeat our enemies while safeguarding civil liberties for all our people,” he says. “The judicial branch has a strong oversight role in the application of the Patriot Act. Under the act, law enforcement officers need a federal judge’s permission to wiretap a foreign terrorist’s phone or search his property. Congress also oversees our use of the Patriot Act. Attorney General Gonzales delivers regular reports on the Patriot Act to the House and the Senate.” [White House, 12/10/2005] Bush has made similar claims in the recent past (see April 19-20, 2004, June 9, 2005, and April 19-20, 2004). Former AT&T senior technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009 and May 2004), who helped install the equipment used by the National Security Agency (NSA) and his firm to intercept foreign and domestic Internet communications (see January 16, 2004), will later say that Bush’s insistence that the administration gets court orders before wiretapping communications is false. AT&T, on behalf of the NSA, was monitoring “billions of messages a second,” Klein will write, all without court orders. [Klein, 2009, pp. 47-48]

Entity Tags: Mark Klein, AT&T, George W. Bush, USA Patriot Act, National Security Agency

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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