The NSA, AT&T And The Secrets Of Room 641A

Tyler Durden's picture

Our final observation on the matter of the US government, no longer accountable to anyone, and treating its citizens as indentured debt serfs who are entitled to precisely zero privacy rights, comes from Stephen Wolfson and "The NSA, AT&T And The Secrets Of Room 641A."

It is an impartial view of what is really going on in the world of communication surveillance. The reality is that while the NSA, which is a public entity through and through, is allowed and expected to do whatever its superiors tell it (i.e., the White House), how does one justify the complete betrayal of their customers by private corporations such as Verizon and AT&T? This may be the most insidious and toxic symbiosis between the public and private sector in the recent past. Because if private telecom corporations are willing to bend all the rules when it comes to the US government, just what do all the other companies operating in the US have to do to appease first the Bush and now the Obama administrations?

From the paper:

This note discusses the possible existence of a domestic surveillance/data collection program conducted by the National Security Agency (“NSA”) with the assistance of AT&T, and the implications of such a program under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (“ECPA”). This article first examines a May 11, 2006 USA Today article reporting that the NSA was given access to a huge number of call records from AT&T. Next, it turns to the story of former AT&T technician Mark Klein and the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (“EFF”) case, Hepting v. AT&T Corporation. Klein claims that the NSA has built a “secret room” in AT&T’s San Francisco switching center that grants the agency access to a vast amount of customer information. In Hepting, the EFF alleges that AT&T violated the Stored Communications Act, Title II of the ECPA; the Wiretap Act, Title I of the ECPA; and the Pen Register Statute, Title III of the ECPA. Finally, this article addresses the Protect America Act of 2007 and provides analysis of expert opinions in the field.

Room 641A:

Room 641A is located in the SBC Communications building at 611 Folsom Street, San Francisco, three floors of which were occupied by AT&T before SBC purchased AT&T. The room was referred to in internal AT&T documents as the SG3 [Study Group 3] Secure Room. It is fed by fiber optic lines from beam splitters installed in fiber optic trunks carrying Internet backbone traffic and, as analyzed by J. Scott Marcus, a former CTO for GTE and a former adviser to the FCC, has access to all Internet traffic that passes through the building, and therefore "the capability to enable surveillance and analysis of internet content on a massive scale, including both overseas and purely domestic traffic." Former director of the NSA’s World Geopolitical and Military Analysis Reporting Group, William Binney, has estimated that 10 to 20 such facilities have been installed throughout the nation.


The room measures about 24 by 48 feet (7.3 by 15 m) and contains several racks of equipment, including a Narus STA 6400, a device designed to intercept and analyze Internet communications at very high speeds.


The very existence of the room was revealed by a former AT&T technician, Mark Klein, and was the subject of a 2006 class action lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation against AT&T.[5] Klein claims he was told that similar black rooms are operated at other facilities around the country.


Room 641A and the controversies surrounding it were subjects of an episode of Frontline, the current affairs documentary program on PBS. It was originally broadcast on May 15, 2007. It was also featured on PBS's NOW on March 14, 2008. The room was also covered in the PBS NOVA episode "The Spy Factory".


Much more can be read about Room 641A in Wired Magazine.

Full paper below (pdf link)

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SilverIsKing's picture

They are much better with cheese and bacon.

Oh, and by the way, it's called Build-A-Burgers.

maskone909's picture

will this be the straw to break the camels back?  i would like to think so.

NotApplicable's picture

Not likely, given it's an almost TEN year old story. I've always loved their defense, "But this software only reads email headers!"

For anyone who isn't familiar with email formats, the header is just the first part of the message, so it is trivial to obtain or not obtain the body of the message once intercepted.

As I always tell people, an email is no different than a postcard (header on one part, body on another). Then I ask them if they'd trust the government to only read the header (address) data only.

The Big Ching-aso's picture

For Gawd's sake take down every picture on your bedroom walls before it's too late.

francis_sawyer's picture

What the hell do you expect when you set yourself up to answer to cheesepopes by proxy?

Fukushima Sam's picture

Real terrorists use encryption.  So just who the hell are they really spying on?

Manthong's picture

Pax Americana, Bitchez..
“security of the slave.. peace of the grave”
-Concepts courtesy of JFK

Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children’   - 

He was referring to the Soviet Union then..  who might he refer to now?

Pooper Popper's picture

Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny. Thomas Jefferson

The Big Ching-aso's picture

Hey look on the bright side.   At least it's not Room 101.

toys for tits's picture

I bet they ignore any email that has a subject line starting with "FWD: Fwd: Fwd:.

Just like the ones with cat pictures that I get from my grandma.

The seriousness of the breach of privacy aside, it's kind of funny to think of all these types of messages that they have to view.

Ident 7777 economy's picture



Sam: "Real terrorists use encryption. So just who the hell are they really spying on?"


That's the 10,000 dollar fine-per-event question ...


Doesn't anybody 'PGP' anymore?



How to Use PGP Public Keys With Yahoo
How to Use PGP Public Keys With Yahoo | eHow



How can I use encryption with Gmail?




King_Julian's picture

Peeps in the IT security business say encryption is a flag for more scrutiny. I would still use it. You should be acting local to bring these fuckers to justice. Leave the cell at home and visit face to face. Make these bitches work for the information they demand. Use TOR for some privacy too. Use encrypted thumb drives. Boot from a CDROM. Turn your phone off when you do errands. You will need these abilities. Better get more rope.

Fuck you Holder.

Meme Iamfurst's picture


I'd guess after the Tampa babe scandel insident that the targets are high up military folks.  Keep them close just incase they are needed.


Of course, since 85% of the traffic on the net is porn, these guys must feel like doctors when they go home to see the little woman naked.  Yawn, yawn...

Meme Iamfurst's picture


I'd guess after the Tampa babe scandel insident that the targets are high up military folks.  Keep them close just incase they are needed.


Of course, since 85% of the traffic on the net is porn, these guys must feel like doctors when they go home to see the little woman naked.  Yawn, yawn...

ExpendableOne's picture

An encrypted link between phone a and b is a nice bit of info.  Maybe put you on yet another list for further scrutiny.  What the news does not cover today is that if they asked for such information from Verizon, they no doubt have it from all the other carriers. So, in the digital age if you want privacy, send a damn snail mail letter.


Now, whos going to build that web site which makes all the congress critter communications transparent?

WillyGroper's picture

That's one reason why they're killing the post office.

Kirk2NCC1701's picture

Q: "So just who the hell are they really spying on?"

A:  They're spying on the potential leaders of the future Resistance, when the financial outhouse they created finally collapses.  The alleged 'targets' they could care less about.  Don't confuse 'Reason' with 'Pretext'.  At some point, any physical dissident will be branded and persecuted as a 'terra-ist'.  Nothing/little is ever as it appears in the Palace of Mirrors.

Getting EVERYONE to encrypt, forces them to scale the data center beyond their capacity.  That is one way to fight back and say "FU, you Constitution raypers*!"

* I know it's misspelled.

Joe Davola's picture

Since the government has set themselves up as the purveyor of electromagnetic aether, try bidding on frequency spectrum after denying them access your captive audience's data.

Kirk2NCC1701's picture

Sawyer, I've asked this b4:  WTF is a "cheesepope"?  Can you xplain it in a way you won't get 'turfed'?  Thx.

Precious's picture

Shout-out to all my fans and followers at the NSA, DOD, DHS, CIA, FBI, IRS, TSA, ATF and SEC.

Cheduba's picture

I hope we're entertaining them at least.  Poor guys probably read MDB's posts to give themselves an ego boost.

fourchan's picture

they are doing a shitty job at stoping chinese hacking if this story is true.

Joe Davola's picture

If there is hacking, then <insert latest boogeyman here> have to get in line behind our boogeymen.

Precious's picture

<- AT&T sucks

<- Verizon sucks

toys for tits's picture

<- All contract players suck.


Just buy the prepaid cards for Straight Talk, Virgin, Boost, etc. and don't transport your old phone number. If you get a lot of debt collection calls at first, you're doing it right.

V in PA's picture

Obama must have really pissed someone / some-group off. All of these 'scandals' are commonplace, status quo, SNAFU. This kind of crap happens all the time. The only difference is that the sheep are normally not told about it or it is just metioned once at the botom of page 12.


Why are the sheep being told?  That what we need to be asking ourselves.

IdiocracyIsAlreadyHere's picture

I think that the small time scandals may in fact being deliberately leaked by the adminsitration to continue to keeps peoples' eyes of the big picture.  I riles up the usual suspects (the masses who think their friends on the "Red team" would do things differently) and continues to make their opponents look foolish.  Hence renewed whining about "KenyanMuslimSocialist" and not BankOwnedDroneObsessedSecrecyObsessedPowerMadFriendofthePlutocracy (the reality).

Umh's picture

It could be a distraction or a feint, but everybody does it has never been a valid excuse.

TuPhat's picture

These secret rooms provide the data that is going to be sent to the largest data storage facility in the world being built in the desert in Utah.  ZH had an article about it but I don't remember exactly when.  This will continue.  The only end will come when the govt. can't use fiat to pay for it.  I don't welcome that day but I am trying to prepare for it.

Rick64's picture

Another story that is over a decade old is Amdocs and Converse sys. which totally comprimised all communications including our gov.. agencies.

Fish Gone Bad's picture

will this be the straw to break the camels back?  i would like to think so.

This and many more things will soon be forgotten.  For anyone with an attention span greater than a fruit fly, the 800 pound gorilla in the room is still Fukushima.  All the world's efforts should really be exerted on digging up that smoldering mess, washing it down with a bunch of chelating agents and disposing of it. 

The spying will continue because it always does...

carbon's picture

tes testin testing my dear

WillyGroper's picture

Suppose that's why Miffed is having trouble getting iodine? Think of all those thyroids.

BLOTTO's picture

The room is a portal leading into Ben Bernankes head...


or John Malkovich...

Canadian Dirtlump's picture

As in the Matrix, That is where bernanke, the architect, resides LOL!


tickhound's picture



I pledge allegiance, to the NSA, and the United Corporations of a'Murica.

As for the public, on which they stand


Under Skynet


with suspicion and data collection on all... except really, really high net worth individuals.

Ignatius's picture

Yeah, what a farce.

One has to wonder if there's a nod, a wink or a secret handshake... I mean, these people can't take themselves seriously when talking 'democracy' and 'freedom' and such.

A Lunatic's picture

Sure they can. A Democracy is a corruption of a Republic and once there is a majority participating in the new Democracy that consider freedom to be nothing more than getting handouts and protection from the Nany State there is really nothing to be ashamed of. Once you understand that one man's freedom is another man's enslavement, all under the guise of equality, it all makes perfect sense.

Ignatius's picture

Talk about missing the point.  I'm talking about how THEY use the words.

Now put your arm back in its socket and if I need you to explain that we're a constitutional republic, that rights are inumerated not granted, I'll call on ya.

moneybots's picture

Democracy and freedom.  Buzz words.

Number one, the U.S. is a constitutional republic, as in "It's a republic, if you can keep it."  It is the constitutional republic we are in danger of losing.

Freedom for who to do what?  Bush said "they hate us for our freedoms", yet the land that Texas stadium was built on was effectively confiscated from its owner, as i understand it.

Will of the people- except when the vote goes against the loser.  Then its off to court to try to overturn the will of the people.  So much for democracy.

Both political parties compete to stuff as many U.S. Flags as possible behind the podium.  More flags, nore pretense of  patriotism.



V in PA's picture

This 'Republic' you speak of died with the passage of the 17th Amendment. Sorry to burst your bubble.

TuPhat's picture

Bush was a socialist when he was the governor of Texas.  I didn't vote for him as governor or pres.  We lost the republic.  We have a democracy where socialists pretend to be democrats or republicans and get elected to be the pretender in chief and the solution to all of our problems is moar fiat and moar war.

Kirk2NCC1701's picture

You guys need to...

(1) Read and re-read Sun Tzu's The Art of War, The Prince by Machiavelli, and perhaps Von Clausewitz (Vom Kriege / On War).  This is mandatory reading for all mid and high level military people.  The first two books are also almost mandatory in many MBA schools.

(2)  Think of ‘Asymmetric Activities’.   We know from Sun Tsu that, when dealing with a stronger opponent, to never ever take them on in a full-frontal situation or on their terms.

One asymmetric solution they can't get around (since you make the laws of physics your BNF) is:  Inflate their Bandwidth needs beyond belief à encrypt everything. Especially if it's insignificant gibberish you don't care about.  Make them use CPU time on pure junk.

This is the 'Distraction' part of the Magician's Trick (Distraction & Action), that you are now against them.

The 'Action' part is... If you have personal or otherwise sensitive stuff, be creative in moving that info (a) via low-tech that requires precious people resources, and (b) do it in plain sight.  You're now flooding them with 'noise', not 'intel'.

Let them know that We The People take our Constitutional rights to privacy seriously!

Their only counter-move, would be to force everyone to have an RFID implant! But then we will have reached the proverbial "666" scenario, where no one is able to buy, sell or transact w/o them knowing about all the details.   Welcome to the Serpent's Prison Planet.



Pladizow's picture




War is Peace

Slavery is Freedom

Ignorance is Strength