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

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)