The Collective
Thursday, November 8, 2007
By Steven L. Taylor

A Story of Surveillance -

His first inkling that something was amiss came in summer 2002 when he opened the door to admit a visitor from the National Security Agency to an office of AT&T in San Francisco.

“What the heck is the NSA doing here?” Mark Klein, a former AT&T technician, said he asked himself.

A year or so later, he stumbled upon documents that, he said, nearly caused him to fall out of his chair. The documents, he said, show that the NSA gained access to massive amounts of e-mail and search and other Internet records of more than a dozen global and regional telecommunications providers. AT&T allowed the agency to hook into its network at a facility in San Francisco and, according to Klein, many of the other telecom companies probably knew nothing about it.

Klein is in Washington this week to share his story in the hope that it will persuade lawmakers not to grant legal immunity to telecommunications firms that helped the government in its anti-terrorism efforts.


He said the NSA built a special room to receive data streamed through an AT&T Internet room containing “peering links,” or major connections to other telecom providers. The largest of the links delivered 2.5 gigabits of data — the equivalent of one-quarter of the Encyclopedia Britannica’s text — per second, said Klein, whose documents and eyewitness account form the basis of one of the first lawsuits filed against the telecom giants after the government’s warrantless-surveillance program was reported in the New York Times in December 2005.

Claudia Jones, an AT&T spokeswoman, said she had no comment on Klein’s allegations. “AT&T is fully committed to protecting our customers’ privacy. We do not comment on matters of national security,” she said.

This is thoroughly unconscionable, if true. And, I fear that it appears all too true. For one thing, there’s Qwest’s refusal to participate, so there was something going on. Further, if there is nothing here, then why would the telecoms want immunity? Of course none of that directly corroborates Klein’s testimony. Still, he can’t be the only one who saw the equipment in question.

Really, in all this discussion of immunity for telecoms it seems to me that the real consequence of granting them immunity will be protecting not the telecoms, but the Bush administration. Lawsuits, while possible financially damaging to AT&T and friends, will point an uncomfortable spotlight on the domestic intelligence gathering by the administration.

That fact that Qwest suggests that it was possible for the telecoms to make choices, and also that it was possible to discern that something was problematic about the government’s requests. As such, it is difficult to see why they ought to be held harmless.

Qwest has not been sued because of media reports last year that said the company declined to participate in an NSA program to build a database of domestic phone-call records out of concern about its legality.

The NYT version of the story is here:
Ex-Worker at AT&T Fights Immunity Bill

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Filed under: US Politics, War on Terror | |
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2 Responses to “On the Telecoms and the Immunity Issue”

  1. Balloon Juice Says:

    [...] For your telephone. Then, your falafel. [...]

  2. PoliBlog ™: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » Deputy Director of National Intelligence to the People of the US: Redifine Your Definition of Privacy Says:

    [...] It would seem that the government of the US believes that it is entitled pretty much to whatever information it wants, whenever it wants its (as the current debate over telecom immunity illustrates). [...]

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