2006/05/22

The NSA's secret chamber at AT&T

The judge in the Electronic Frontier Foundation's class-action suit against AT&T has refused to allow the EFF to reveal details of the telecom's efforts to aid the NSA's spying on innocent Americans. "Wired" magazine has taken it upon themselves to let the truth be known.

A three-page document written in 2004 by former AT&T employee Mark Klein, the whistle-blower tells of the secret chamber, Room 641A, that he discovered deep in the bowels of the SBC building -- where AT&T occupies floors six, seven and eight -- in San Francisco. In addition to the document (PDF) there are internal schematics and other resources that back up his allegations.

High speed fiber-optic cables run into the eighth floor of the building and then down to the seventh, where they connect to the company's WorldNet service, part of what's known as the "Common Backbone." It's here that the information the NSA so desperately wants resides - every search you make, every website you visit, basically all your internet activity.

But fiber-optic cables aren't like good old copper cables. In the past, cables used to "leak" information. You could tap into them with something as simple as an alligator clip. Today's cables don't leak, however. No, to get a fiber-optic cable to surrender its secrets you have to splice it. Not only is the NSA spying on innocent Americans illegally, they're compromising the quality of their internet service while they do it. Splicing the signal weakens it, making internet connections slower.

So the NSA built a special cabinet with a splitter inside that feeds the information to their secret room, 614A. There they harvest all your secrets, to use however they see fit.

The internal documents suggest this chamber is one of several -- maybe dozens -- throughout the country.

"Wired" says the judge's gag order regarding the documents was very specific, barring only the EFF and its employees from releasing the information. Their editors also dispute AT&T's claim that the information was proprietary and would reveal valuable company secrets.

"Based on what we've seen, Wired News disagrees. In addition, we believe the public's right to know the full facts in this case outweighs AT&T's claims to secrecy," read the magazine's statement.

To make matters worse, AT&T is making a profit on the whole thing. The company that makes the devices that are being used to spy on you, Narus, is a joint venture of AT&T, JP Morgan and Intel, among others.

"Anything that comes through (an internet protocol network), we can record," Steve Bannerman, marketing vice president of Narus, told Wired. "We can reconstruct all of their e-mails along with attachments, see what web pages they clicked on, we can reconstruct their (voice over internet protocol) calls."

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