Telecom giant AT&T reportedly played a “highly collaborative” part in helping the NSA to spy on Internet traffic. It’s the latest revelation from documents provided by the agency’s former contractor Edward Snowden.
In new information gleaned from National Security Agency documents dating from between 2003 and 2013, jointly reviewed by “The New York Times” and investigative newsroom “ProPublica,” the telecommunications corporation was described as “highly collaborative” and showed an “extreme willingness to help.”
The “Times” reported that the wide range of such help included assisting the spy agency to snoop on all Internet communications at the United Nations headquarters in New York, a customer of AT&T. The US told the UN in 2013 that it would not monitor its communications.
One document contains a reminder to NSA officials to be courteous when visiting the facilities of AT&T. “This is a partnership, not a contractual relationship,” the documents noted.
The documents showed that in September 2003 AT&T became the first partner to turn on a new collection capability which the NSA deemed a “‘live’ presence on the global net” and its engineers were the first to use new surveillance technologies the NSA had invented.
According to an internal agency newsletter, in 2011 AT&T began handing the NSA more than 1.1 billion domestic cellphone calling records per day, following “a push to get this flow operational prior to the tenth anniversary of 9/11,” referring to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
This appears to contradict statements by intelligence officials to reporters, following earlier revelations by Snowden, that for technical reasons it was mostly Americans’ landline phone records that were being collected.
While the NSA documents do not mention AT&T by name, the analysis by the “Times” and “ProPublica” pointed towards it as the company involved in the program codenamed Fairview, with both outlets reporting that several former intelligence officials confirmed their finding.
The documents also show the importance of AT&T’s role in enabling the agency to conduct surveillance on international and foreign-to-foreign communications which passed through AT&T’s Internet hubs. Another program, called Stormbrew, included AT&T’s similar-sized competitor Verizon. The “Times” reported the NSA spent almost $189 million (170 million euros) on Fairview, about double what was spent on Stormbrew.
The revelations over the past two years from Snowden about the extent of the United States’ spying triggered a global debate about Internet surveillance, privacy and security. Snowden fled the US and has temporary asylum in Russia.
Asked to comment on the “Times” report, AT&T spokesman Brad Burns gave news agencies a similar statement to one he gave the “Times” and “ProPublica.”
“We do 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,” he said, adding that the company had no further comment.
se/bk (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)