ATT and the NSA are operating unconstitutional data collection centers
The Intercept broke the story that 8 NSA centers have been confirmed to exist in America. These centers conduct
unconstitutional surviellance on the entirety of America as well as the whole world.
"It's eye-opening and ominous the extent to which this is happening right here on American soil," said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. "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."
There are hundreds of AT&T-owned properties scattered across the U.S. The eight identified by The Intercept serve a specific function, processing AT&T customers' data and also carrying large quantities of data from other internet providers. They are known as "backbone" and "peering" facilities.
While network operators would usually prefer to send data through their own networks, often a more direct and cost-efficient path is provided by other providers' infrastructure. If one network in a specific area of the country is overloaded with data traffic, another operator with capacity to spare can sell or exchange bandwidth, reducing the strain on the congested region. This exchange of traffic is called "peering" and is an essential feature of the internet.
Because of AT&T's position as one of the U.S.'s leading telecommunications companies, it has a large network that is frequently used by other providers to transport their customers' data. Companies that "peer" with AT&T include the American telecommunications giants Sprint, Cogent Communications, and Level 3, as well as foreign companies such as Sweden's Telia, India's Tata Communications, Italy's Telecom Italia, and Germany's Deutsche Telekom.
AT&T currently boasts 19,500 "points of presence" in 149 countries where internet traffic is exchanged. But only eight of the company's facilities in the U.S. offer direct access to its "common backbone" – key data routes that carry vast amounts of emails, internet chats, social media updates, and internet browsing sessions. These eight locations are among the most important in AT&T's global network. They are also highly valued by the NSA, documents indicate.
The eight locations are featured on a top-secret NSA map, which depicts U.S. facilities that the agency relies upon for one of its largest surveillance programs, code-named FAIRVIEW. AT&T is the only company involved in FAIRVIEW, which was first established in 1985, according to NSA documents, and involves tapping into international telecommunications cables, routers, and switches.
In 2003, the NSA launched new internet mass surveillance methods, which were pioneered under the FAIRVIEW program. The methods were used by the agency to collect – within a few months – some 400 billion records about people's internet communications and activity, the New York Times previously reported. FAIRVIEW was also forwarding more than 1 million emails every day to a "keyword selection system" at the NSA's Fort Meade headquarters.
Central to the internet spying are eight "peering link router complex" sites, which are pinpointed on the top-secret NSA map. The locations of the sites mirror maps of AT&T's networks, obtained by The Intercept from public records, which show "backbone node with peering" facilities in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.
One of the AT&T maps contains unique codes individually identifying the addresses of the facilities in each of the cities.
Among the pinpointed buildings, there is a nuclear blast-resistant, windowless facility in New York City's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood; in Washington, D.C., a fortress-like, concrete structure less than half a mile south of the U.S. Capitol; in Chicago, an earthquake-resistant skyscraper in the West Loop Gate area; in Atlanta, a 429-foot art deco structure in the heart of the city's downtown district; and in Dallas, a cube-like building with narrow windows and large vents on its exterior, located in the Old East district.
Elsewhere, on the west coast of the U.S., there are three more facilities: in downtown Los Angeles, a striking concrete tower near the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Staples Center, two blocks from the most important internet exchange in the region; in Seattle, a 15-story building with blacked-out windows and reinforced concrete foundations, near the city's waterfront; and in San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood, a building where it was previously claimed that the NSA was monitoring internet traffic from a secure room on the sixth floor.
The peering sites – otherwise known in AT&T parlance as "Service Node Routing Complexes," or SNRCs – were developed following the internet boom in the mid- to late 1990s. By March 2009, the NSA's documents say it was tapping into "peering circuits at the eight SNRCs."
The facilities' purpose was to bolster AT&T's network, improving its reliability and enabling future growth. They were developed under the leadership of an Iranian-American innovator and engineer named Hossein Eslambolchi, who was formerly AT&T's chief technology officer and president of AT&T Labs, a division of the company that focuses on research and development.
Eslambolchi told The Intercept that the project to set up the facilities began after AT&T asked him to help create "the largest internet protocol network in the world."
During his employment with AT&T, Eslambolchi said he had to take a polygraph test, and he obtained a government security clearance. "I was involved in very, very top, heavy-duty projects for a few of these three-letter agencies," he said, in an apparent reference to U.S. intelligence agencies. "They all loved me."
A former senior member of AT&T's technical staff, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject, confirmed with "100 percent" certainty the locations of six of the eight peering facilities identified by The Intercept. The source, citing direct knowledge of the facilities and their function, verified the addresses of the buildings in Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.
A second former AT&T employee confirmed the locations of the remaining two sites, in Chicago and San Francisco. "I worked with all of them," said Philip Long, who was employed by AT&T for more than two decades as a technician servicing its networks. Long's work with AT&T was carried out mostly in California, but he said his job required him to be in contact with the company's other facilities across the U.S. In about 2005, Long recalled, he received orders to move "every internet backbone circuit I had in northern California" through the San Francisco AT&T building identified by The Intercept as one of the eight NSA spy hubs. Long said that, at the time, he felt suspicious of the changes, because they were unusual and unnecessary. "We thought we were routing our circuits so that they could grab all the data," he said. "We thought it was the government listening." He retired from his job with AT&T in 2014.
A third former AT&T employee reviewed The Intercept's research and said he believed it accurately identified all eight of the facilities. "The site data certainly seems correct," said Thomas Saunders, who worked as a data networking consultant for AT&T in New York City between 1995 and 2004. "Those nodes aren't going to move."
51 Peachtree Center Avenue, Atlanta, GA
The AT&T building in Atlanta was originally constructed in the 1920s as the main telephone exchange for the city's downtown area. The art deco structure, made of limestone, was designed to be the largest in the city at the time at 25 stories tall. However, due to the Great Depression, plans were scaled back and at first, it only had six stories. Between 1947 and 1963, the building was upgraded to host 14 stories, and a large brown microwave tower – visible for miles – was also added. A profile of the building on the History Atlanta website notes that it contains "operations, phone exchanges and other communications equipment for AT&T."
10 South Canal Street, Chicago IL
Like many other major telecommunications hubs built during the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Chicago AT&T building was designed amid the Cold War to withstand a nuclear attack. The 538-foot skyscraper, located in the West Loop Gate area of the city, was completed in 1971. There are windows at both the top and bottom of the vast concrete structure, but 18 of its 28 floors are windowless.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the facility handles much of the city's phone and internet traffic and is equipped with banks of routers, servers, and switching systems. "This building touches every single resident of the city," Jim Wilson, an AT&T area manager, told the newspaper in 2016.
One of the building's architects, John Augur Holabird, said in a 1998 interview that it housed "a big switchboard." He added: "In case the atomic bomb hits Milwaukee, you'll be happy to know your telephone line will still go through even though the rest of us are wiped out. And that's what that building was for."
10 South Canal Street originally contained a million-gallon oil tank, turbine generators, and a water well, so that it could continue to function for more than two weeks without electricity or water from the city, according to Illinois broadcaster WBEZ. The building is "anchored in bedrock, which helps support the weight of the equipment inside, and gives it extra resistance to bomb blasts or earthquakes," WBEZ reported.
Today, the facility contains six large V-16 yellow Caterpillar generators that can provide backup electricity in the event of a power failure, according to the Chicago Sun Times. Inside the skyscraper, AT&T stores some 200,000 gallons of diesel fuel, enough to run the generators for 40 days.
NSA and AT&T maps point to the Chicago facility as being one of the "peering" hubs, which process internet traffic as part of the NSA surveillance program code-named FAIRVIEW. Philip Long, who was employed by AT&T for more than two decades as a technician servicing its networks, confirmed that the Chicago site was one of eight primary AT&T "Service Node Routing Complexes," or SNRCs, in the U.S. NSA documents explicitly describe tapping into flows of data at all eight of these sites.
4211 Bryan Street, Dallas, TX
This AT&T building is a fortified, cube-like structure, located in the Old East area of Dallas, not far from Baylor University Medical Center. Built in 1961, it is a light yellow-brown color with a granite foundation. Large vents are visible on the exterior of the building, as are several narrow windows, many of which appear to have been blacked out or covered in a reflective privacy glass.
The 4211 Bryan Street facility is located next to other AT&T-owned buildings, including a towering telephone routing complex that was first built in 1904. A piece about the telephone hub in the Dallas Observer described it as "an imposing, creepy building" that is "known in some circles as The Great Wall of Beige."
According to the Central Office website, which profiles telecommunications buildings across the U.S., the Dallas telephone hub is "the main regional tandem and AT&T for long distance and toll services in the Dallas Texas region." Today, the building also has "major fiber connections to Plano, Irving, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Ft. Worth, Abilene, Houston and Austin," the website adds.
NSA and AT&T maps point to the 4211 Bryan Street facility as being one of the "peering" hubs, which process internet traffic as part of the NSA surveillance program code-named FAIRVIEW. A former AT&T employee confirmed that the site was one of eight primary AT&T "Service Node Routing Complexes," or SNRCs, in the U.S. NSA documents explicitly describe tapping into flows of data at all eight of these sites.
420 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA
At the time of its construction in 1961, the AT&T building known as the Madison Complex was the tallest building in downtown Los Angeles. It has since been dwarfed by a number of corporate office skyscrapers in the surrounding Financial District.
Located between Chinatown and the Staples Center, the fortress-like structure is one of the largest telephone central offices in the U.S. "The theoretical number of telephone lines that can be served from this office are 1.3 million and this office also serves as a foreign exchange carrier to neighboring area codes," according to the Central Office, a website that profiles U.S. telecommunications hubs.
The 448-foot, 17-story building is beige, rectangular, and mostly windowless. On its roof, there is a large microwave tower, which was originally used to transmit phone calls across a network of antennae. The tower's technology became obsolete in the early 1990s, and it ceased to operate. It remains in place today as a sort of monument to outdated methods of communication and stands in contrast to the more modern buildings in the vicinity, many of them owned by banks.
The Madison Complex is located just two blocks from One Wilshire, which houses what is reportedly the most important internet exchange on the U.S. west coast. "Billions of phone calls, emails and internet pages pass through One Wilshire every week," the Los Angeles Times reported in 2013, "because it is the primary terminus for major fiber-optic cable routes between Asia and North America."
Due to the close proximity of the Madison Complex and One Wilshire, and their shared role as telecommunications hubs, it is likely that the buildings process some of the same data as it is being routed across U.S. networks.
NSA and AT&T maps point to the Madison Complex facility as being one of the "peering" hubs, which process internet traffic as part of the NSA surveillance program code-named FAIRVIEW. A former AT&T employee confirmed that the site was one of eight primary AT&T "Service Node Routing Complexes," or SNRCs, in the U.S. NSA documents explicitly describe tapping into flows of data at all eight of these sites.
811 10th Avenue, New York City, NY
It was built in 1964 as New York City's first major telecommunications fortress. The striking concrete and granite AT&T building – located in the Hell's Kitchen area about a 15-minute walk from Central Park – is 134 meters tall, with 21 floors, each one of them windowless and built to resist a nuclear blast.
A New York Times article published in 1975 noted that 811 10th Avenue was "the first of several windowless equipment buildings to be constructed" in the city, and added that its design initially "caused considerable controversy."
According to AT&T records, the building is a "hardened telco data center" and was upgraded in 2000 to become an internet data center. Thomas Saunders, a former AT&T engineer, told The Intercept that, in the 1970s, the building was considered to be "the biggest hub for transmission [of communications] in the country." Saunders also claimed that, had Bush been in Manhattan during the 9/11 attacks, the Secret Service would have taken him to safety inside the AT&T facility. "It's the strongest building in town," he said.
NSA and AT&T maps indicate that the 10th Avenue facility is one of eight "peering" hubs that process internet traffic as part of the NSA surveillance program code-named FAIRVIEW. Two former AT&T employees confirmed that the site was one of eight primary AT&T "Service Node Routing Complexes," or SNRCs, in the U.S. NSA documents explicitly describe tapping into flows of data at all eight of these sites.
The design of the building bears some resemblance to another windowless building in New York City – AT&T's towering skyscraper at 33 Thomas Street in lower Manhattan. As The Intercept reported in 2016, 33 Thomas Street is a major hub for routing international phone calls and appears to contain a secure NSA surveillance room – code-named TITANPOINTE – that has been used to tap into faxes and phone calls.
NSA and AT&T documents indicate that 10th Avenue building serves as the NSA's internet equivalent of 33 Thomas Street. While the NSA's surveillance at 33 Thomas Street mainly targets phone calls that pass through the building's international switching points, at the 10th Avenue site the agency appears to primarily collect emails, online chats, and data from internet browsing sessions.
611 Folsom Street, San Francisco, CA
This San Francisco AT&T building has been described as the city's telecommunications "nerve center." It is about 256 feet tall, has nine floors, and its exterior is covered in silver-colored panels; there are a series of vents that can be seen at street level, but there are few windows.
NSA and AT&T maps obtained by The Intercept indicate that 611 Folsom Street is one of the eight "peering" hubs in the U.S. that process internet traffic as part of the NSA surveillance program code-named FAIRVIEW. Philip Long, who was employed by AT&T for more than two decades as a technician servicing its networks, confirmed that the San Francisco site is one of eight primary AT&T "Service Node Routing Complexes," or SNRCs, in the U.S. NSA documents explicitly describe tapping into flows of data at all eight of these sites.
Long recalled that, in the early 2000s, he "moved every internet backbone circuit I had in northern California" through the Folsom Street office. At the time, he said, he and his colleagues found it strange that they were asked to suddenly reroute all of the traffic, because "there was nothing wrong with the services, no facility problems."
"We were getting orders to move backbones … and it just grabbed me," said Long. "We thought it was government stuff and that they were being intrusive. We thought we were routing our circuits so that they could grab all the data."
It is not the first time the building has been implicated in revelations about electronic eavesdropping. In 2006, an AT&T technician named Mark Klein alleged in a sworn court declaration that the NSA was tapping into internet traffic from a secure room on the sixth floor of the facility.
Klein, who worked at 611 Folsom Street between October 2003 and May 2004, stated that employees from the agency had visited the building and recruited one of AT&T's management level technicians to carry out a "special job." The job involved installing a "splitter cabinet" that copied internet data as it was flowing into the building, before diverting it into the secure room.
He said equipment in the secure room included a "semantic traffic analyzer" – a tool that can be used to search large quantities of data for particular words or phrases contained in emails or online chats. Notably, Klein discovered that the NSA appeared to be specifically targeting internet "peering links," which is corroborated by the NSA and AT&T documents obtained by The Intercept.
"By cutting into the peering links, they get not only AT&T's data, they get all the data that's interchanged between AT&T's network and other companies," Klein told The Intercept in a recent interview.
According to documents provided by Klein, AT&T's network at Folsom Street "peered" with other companies like Sprint, Cable & Wireless, and Qwest. It was also linked, he said, to an internet exchange named MAE West, a major data hub in San Jose, California, where other companies connect their networks together.
1122 3rd Avenue, Seattle, WA
The Seattle facility is located in the city's downtown area, not far from the waterfront. The gray building is 15 stories tall, with a dozen rows of narrow, blacked-out windows and vents that rise to its peak. According to public records, it was first constructed in 1955 and has reinforced concrete foundations and exterior walls that are supported by a steel frame.
Historically, the facility was an important communications switching point in the northwest of the U.S., routing calls between places like Bellingham, Spokane, Yakima, and north to Canada and Alaska. Today, the building appears to be primarily owned by the Qwest Corporation – a subsidiary of CenturyLink – but AT&T has a presence within it. AT&T's logo is emblazoned on a plaque outside the building's entrance.
Twenty-five miles north of Seattle, there is a major intercontinental undersea cable called Pacific Crossing-1, which routes communications between the U.S. and Japan; it is possible that the Seattle building processes some of these communications and others that pass between the U.S. west coast and Asia.
30 E Street Southwest, Washington, D.C.
The building is a large, concrete, rectangular-shaped facility with few windows, located less than a mile south of the U.S. Capitol. Property tax records show that Verizon owns the majority of the property (worth $26 million), while AT&T owns a smaller part (worth $8.8 million). Plans of the building's internal layout show that AT&T has space on the fourth, fifth, and sixth floors.
Central Office Buildings, a website that profiles telecommunications hubs in North America, describes the 30 E Street South West facility as "the granddaddy HQ of Verizon landline in Washington, DC." It adds that the building contains a "a slew of switches of various types," including AT&T equipment for routing long distance phone calls across networks.
Capitol Police has an office located opposite the telecommunications hub, and a large number of police vehicles are usually located around the site. When The Intercept visited the facility to take photographs earlier this year, within a few minutes, several armed police officers arrived on the scene with dogs. They questioned our reporter, searched his car, and said that the building was considered critical infrastructure.
NSA and AT&T maps point to the Washington, D.C. facility as being one of eight "peering" hubs that process internet traffic as part of the NSA surveillance program code-named FAIRVIEW. A former AT&T employee confirmed that the site was one of eight primary AT&T "Service Node Routing Complexes," or SNRCs, in the U.S. NSA documents explicitly describe tapping into flows of data at all eight of these sites.