Newly disclosed NSA files expose the spy agency's relationship through the years with American telecoms companies. As NYTimes reports, The National Security Agency’s ability to spy on vast quantities of Internet traffic passing through the United States has relied on its extraordinary, decades-long partnership with a single company: the telecom giant AT&T. The documents, provided by the former agency contractor Edward Snowden, described the NSA-AT&T relationship as "highly collaborative," while another lauded the company’s "extreme willingness to help."
While it has been long known that American telecommunications companies worked closely with the spy agency, newly disclosed N.S.A. documents show that the relationship with AT&T has been considered unique and especially productive. As The NY Times reports,
AT&T’s cooperation has involved a broad range of classified activities, according to the documents, which date from 2003 to 2013.
AT&T has given the N.S.A. access, through several methods covered under different legal rules, to billions of emails as they have flowed across its domestic networks. It provided technical assistance in carrying out a secret court order permitting the wiretapping of all Internet communications at the United Nations headquarters, a customer of AT&T.
The documents, provided by whistleblower and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, as RT adds, explain that the telecom giant was able to deliver under various legal loopholes international and foreign-to-foreign internet communications even if they passed through networks located in the US.
To show the extent of AT&T’s involvement, the files revealed that the company installed surveillance equipment in at least 17 of its major US internet hubs, thought to be a lot more than Verizon installed. AT&T’s engineers were also the first ones to get their hands on this new surveillance technologies created by the NSA, the newspaper reported.
Further proving a unique relationship is the NSA’s top-secret budget from 2013, which doubled the funding of any other cooperation of similar size, according to the documents.
“This is a partnership, not a contractual relationship,” one document said, warning NSA officials to be polite and professional. “[AT&T’s] corporate relationships provide unique accesses to other telecoms and ISPs [Internet service providers],” said another.
In 2011 AT&T began to supply NSA with over 1.1 billion domestic cellphone calling records per day in 2011, which was “a push to get this flow operational prior to the 10th anniversary of 9/11,” the Times reported.
AT&T spokesman Brad Burns told Reuters that the company does not “voluntarily provide information to any investigating authorities other than if a person’s life is in danger and time is of the essence. For example, in a kidnapping situation we could provide help tracking down called numbers to assist law enforcement.”
It is not clear if the programs still operate in the same way today. Since the Snowden revelations set off a global debate over surveillance two years ago, some Silicon Valley technology companies have expressed anger at what they characterize as N.S.A. intrusions and have rolled out new encryption to thwart them. The telecommunications companies have been quieter, though Verizon unsuccessfully challenged a court order for bulk phone records in 2014. At the same time, the government has been fighting in court to keep the identities of its telecom partners hidden.
In a recent case, a group of AT&T customers claimed that the N.S.A.’s tapping of the Internet violated the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches. This year, a federal judge dismissed key portions of the lawsuit after the Obama administration argued that public discussion of its telecom surveillance efforts would reveal state secrets, damaging national security.
The US government continues to pursue Snowden, insisting that he stole classified information, and betrayed the nation, claiming that his “dangerous” decision had “severe consequences” for the security of the United States. Others, however, have hailed Snowden as a “hero” who has disclosed unconstitutional activities by the US government.
Karl Denninger asks the all-important question... Why are we stil using AT&T?
I often ask myself why I should bother with continuing to do the work I do in the area of writing on the various outrages that our government -- and various other entities -- engage in. It is very hard to make the argument that anyone in material numbers gives a damn when this sort of thing doesn't result in the instantaneous destruction of the customer base of any business involved in such an act.
It was often claimed that these records were "mostly" wireline (that is, old-fashioned phone-on-the-kitchen-wall) records. This is now known to have been a lie.
The documents show that AT&T's cooperation has involved a broad range of classified activities, according to the Times. AT&T has given the NSA access, through several methods covered under different legal rules, to billions of emails as they have flowed across its domestic networks.
It also has provided technical assistance in carrying out a secret court order permitting the wiretapping of all Internet communications at U.N. headquarters, a customer of AT&T, the Times reported. While NSA spying on U.N. diplomats had been previously reported, the newspaper said Saturday that neither the court order nor AT&T's involvement had been disclosed.
The documents also reveal that AT&T installed surveillance equipment in at least 17 of its Internet hubs on American soil, the Times reported, far more than similarly sized competitor Verizon.
AT&T engineers were the first to try out new surveillance technologies invented by the NSA, the newspaper reported.
I don't know what the bigger problem is here -- that AT&T willingly assisted wiretapping all communications at the UN or that a court issued a blanket wiretap order for all communications taking place at the UN.
We're not talking about "some" communications, or "those associated with (certain) regimes and nations"; this order appears to have been a blanket one that covered literally everything that went on at the facility.
Further, AT&T is reported to be have not only made no attempt to resist through process of law but to have been fully involved and willing to assist -- hardly the adversarial process that is expected in our legal system!
It has been said (somewhat jokingly) that the AT&T logo was best-associated with this:
Emperor Palpatine, is that you in there? And more to the point why does this company have any civilian US customers left that willingly pay money to -- or use -- it?