Key locations were quietly outfitted in the early 1980’s with sophisticated NSA tapping equipment.
Eight heavily fortified AT&T-owned properties were identified as top secret National Security Agency “spy hubs.” Hidden in plain sight, “backbone” and “peering” facilities scattered across the country at key locations were quietly outfitted in the early 1980’s with sophisticated NSA tapping equipment. Security agencies praise “Ma Bell’s” patriotism and “extreme willingness to help.”
The NSA considers AT&T to be one of its “most trusted partners” and the partnership reaches back for decades.
The covert program has been eavesdropping on billions of phone calls, while spying on emails and online chats for the last few decades. “It’s eye-opening and ominous the extent to which this is happening right here on American soil,” warns Elizabeth Goitein, who serves as co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program.
“It puts a face on surveillance that we could never think of before in terms of actual buildings and actual facilities in our own cities, in our own backyards.”
These structures are more than “solidly” built. The nexus points of the worlds telecommunications network “are hidden behind fortified walls.” They are “inside towering, windowless skyscrapers and fortress-like concrete structures that were built to withstand earthquakes and even nuclear attack.”
Every day thousands of people walk right by each and every one of them without giving them much thought because nobody knows what goes on inside.
AT&T put some heavy duty data switching systems, which now are known to be tapped by the NSA, in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. These facilities contain “networking equipment that transports large quantities of internet traffic across the United States and the world.”
AT&T, by virtue of being the only “phone company,” until 1982, had a stranglehold on communications infrastructure. Every other voice and data carrier on the planet uses AT&T equipment on a daily basis.
“The NSA exploits these relationships for surveillance purposes, commandeering AT&T’s massive infrastructure and using it as a platform to covertly tap into communications processed by other companies.”
Depending on data traffic loads, bandwidth is exchanged between companies wherever it becomes available to reduce the strain on congested networks. The system is called “peering.”
The internet would not be able to function without the ability to split any particular message into chunks called “packets,” and flinging them around the world in different directions, only to be reassembled into a message again on the other side. Even for voice calls.
The eight crucial nexus hubs are special parts of AT&T’s entire system. Those are the only points where the “common backbone” can be accessed.
Not only are these “key data routes that carry vast amounts of emails, internet chats, social media updates, and internet browsing sessions,” and the most important AT&T assets, they are “also highly valued by the NSA.”
All of the world’s data gets routed into one of those eight locations at one time or another, and NSA is there to pick it up. According to former AT&T senior tech Mark Klein, by listening in on the peering circuits, they get “not only AT&T’s data, they get all the data that’s interchanged between AT&T’s network and other companies.”
It is the most efficient point to tap, Klein notes, “because the peering links, by the nature of the connections, are liable to carry everybody’s traffic at one point or another during the day, or the week, or the year.”
AT&T says they are not doing anything secret, they have to comply with any court orders, subpoenas or warrants but never do anything illegal. Company spokesman Jim Greer also adds they provide “voluntary assistance to law enforcement when a person’s life is in danger and in other immediate, emergency situations. In all cases, we ensure that requests for assistance are valid and that we act in compliance with the law.”
As long as surveillance is only done on a “limited basis” other carriers don’t have a problem with it. The head of Cogent Communications, Dave Schaeffer says he would definitely be extremely concerned “if the NSA were trying to ubiquitously monitor” all the data passing through the nodes.
Project FAIRVIEW started in 1985. It involved “tapping into internal telecommunications cables, routers, and switches.” AT&T is the only private company involved.
In 2003, The NSA upgraded their systems and “launched new internet mass surveillance methods which were pioneered under the FAIRVIEW program.” After only a few months, they had harvested “some 400 billion records about people’s internet communications and activity.”
FAIRVIEW automatically was “forwarding more than 1 million emails every day to a “keyword selection system” at the NSA’s headquarters. They sniffed each and every email to see if you were talking about anything they might be interested in.
If they found a keyword hit, the NSA would seize the person’s entire inbox and read all the messages in full.
The peering networks were another upgrade starting in the mid-1990s with the internet boom. The new technology uses “Service Node Routing Complexes” at the eight secure locations. By March of 2009, NSA documents admit they had full control to tap all eight SNRC’s at will.
The inventor, Hossein Eslambolchi, started the project when he was asked to help build “the largest internet protocol network in the world.” He was the one who picked the locations for the SNRC’s after “he divided AT&T’s network into different regions.”
“I was involved in very, very top, heavy-duty projects for a few of those three-letter agencies,” he proudly declared, “They all loved me.” That is because he handed them the golden keys to the entire internet on a silver platter.
Big Brother with a smile.