More fallout from AT&T’s spying partnership with NSA

In its blockbuster piece on Sunday detailing the role that AT&T played in working with the National Security Agency to spy on Internet traffic, the New York Times presented a damning portrait of how American corporate icon AT&T turned its tech tools full force on the unwary public.

The article on the paper’s front page was compiled by a team of top investigative reporters, including James Risen, whose long-running saga over his refusal to identify confidential sources to authorities ended a few months ago when lawyers in the case said they would not call him to testify.

The story on Sunday delves deeply into the spying partnership that existed for years between AT&T and the NSA as that agency stepped up its efforts to monitor thousands of personal emails between Americans. While some of AT&T’s cooperative role had already been reported, the Times piece takes a closer look at the unique relationship that the company had with the government:

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. One document described it as “highly collaborative,” while another lauded the company’s “extreme willingness to help.”
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.

One of the most intriguing revelations to me was a spy program called Fairview, one of the NSA’s oldest, having started in 1985. The Times, along with ProPublica, reviewed the documents provided to them by former agency contractor Edward Snowden, and the Fairview story reads like something out an Ian Fleming spy novel:

Fairview is one of its oldest programs. It began in 1985, the year after antitrust regulators broke up the Ma Bell telephone monopoly and its long-distance division became AT&T Communications. An analysis of the Fairview documents by The Times and ProPublica reveals a constellation of evidence that points to AT&T as that program’s partner. Several former intelligence officials confirmed that finding.

A Fairview fiber-optic cable, damaged in the 2011 earthquake in Japan, was repaired on the same date as a Japanese-American cable operated by AT&T. Fairview documents use technical jargon specific to AT&T. And in 2012, the Fairview program carried out the court order for surveillance on the Internet line, which AT&T provides, serving the United Nations headquarters. (N.S.A. spying on United Nations diplomats has previously been reported, but not the court order or AT&T’s involvement. In October 2013, the United States told the United Nations that it would not monitor its communications.)

Here’s a report on the story from PBS NewsHour:

Reaction to the piece has been exploding since the article came out, with the blogosphere and Twitter overflowing with comments, both in support of and against AT&T for what it had done.

“Why are we acting like it’s a bad thing that a carrier is cooperating with the government in order to improve national security?” wrote one reader in response to a story at about the partnership.

But another reader followed that up with: “How can an act of treason be a good thing? The NSA are in direct violation of the US Constitution and that my friend is TREASON.”

Above: Photo illustration by MCT




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  • ellafino

    One person’s treason is another’s patriotic duty.