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October 2003: AT&T Technician Learns Details of NSA ‘Secret Room’ in San Francisco Facility

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

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