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Context of 'March 29, 2006: Expert Witness Says NSA Would Have Placed Signal ‘Splitters’ Differently if It Only Intended to Monitor International Communications'

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Expert witness J. Scott Marcus, in an analysis submitted on behalf of the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s lawsuit against AT&T (see January 31, 2006), notes that if the NSA had wanted to intercept only international electronic communications in its surveillance operations facilited by AT&T (see January 16, 2004), it would have placed “splitters” only at entry points such as ocean cable-head stations rather than in AT&T offices (see October 2003) in locations such as Atlanta and San Francisco (see Late 2003), where they would inevitably pick up huge amounts of domestic communications. Marcus, a former AT&T employee who held a top secret clearance when he was a consultant for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), writes: “The majority of international IP [Internet Protocol] traffic enters the United States at a limited number of locations, many of them in the areas of northern Virginia, Silicon Valley, New York, and (for Latin America) south Florida. This deployment, however, is neither modest nor limited, and it apparently involves considerably more locations that would be required to catch the majority of international traffic.” (Emphasis in original.) Marcus continues: “I conclude that the designers of the SG3 Configuration (see Late 2003) made no attempt, in terms of the location or position of the fiber split, to exclude data sources primarily comprised of domestic data.… Once the data has been diverted, there is nothing in the data that reliably and unambiguously distinguishes whether the destination is domestic or foreign.” Marcus estimates that the NSA has 15 to 20 sites in AT&T facilities around the country, and says, “a substantial fraction, probably well over half, of AT&T’s purely domestic traffic was diverted.” Former senior AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009 and May 2004) will later write, “Though Marcus refrained from drawing the obvious conclusion, the facts strongly suggest that this entire apparatus was designed for domestic spying.” (Emphasis in original). [Klein, 2009, pp. 49-50, 71] Klein will also write that Marcus’s expertise “was at a much higher level than mine.” Klein will later write that he is pleased that Marcus’s statement validates and supports his own documentation and conclusions. [Klein, 2009, pp. 71]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, AT&T, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Mark Klein, J. Scott Marcus

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The New York Times does a more in-depth report on the allegations advanced by former AT&T technician Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009), who is providing evidence and documentation to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) for that organization’s lawsuit against AT&T (see December 31, 2005 and January 31, 2006). The Times published a far briefer report five days earlier (see April 7, 2006). The article provides a brief synopsis of Klein’s allegations—that AT&T worked with the National Security Agency (NSA) to illegally monitor and record millions of Americans’ telephone and Internet communications and thus illegally invaded its customers’ privacy. It also notes, as did the first article, that Klein had provided some of his documentation “to reporters,” though neither article admits that the Times received the documents months beforehand (see Mid-February - Late March, 2006). The new information in the article is the conclusion of “four independent telecommunications and computer security experts” who examined Klein’s documents “at the request of The New York Times.” According to the four experts, the documents “describe equipment capable of monitoring a large quantity of email messages, Internet phone calls, and other Internet traffic. The equipment… was able to select messages that could be identified by keywords, Internet or email addresses, or country of origin and divert copies to another location for further analysis.” All four experts agreed that the documents proved “AT&T had an agreement with the federal government to systematically gather information flowing on the Internet through the company’s network. The gathering of such information, known as data mining, involves the use of sophisticated computer programs to detect patterns or glean useful intelligence from masses of information.” Brian Reid, the director of engineering at the Internet Systems Consortium, says of the AT&T/NSA project: “This took expert planning and hundreds of millions of dollars to build. This is the correct way to do high volume Internet snooping.” An expert who refuses to be named says the documents are “consistent” with Bush administration claims that the NSA only monitored foreign communications and communications between foreign and US locations, in part because of the location of the monitoring sites. (An expert witness, former AT&T and FCC employee J. Scott Marcus, has given testimony for EFF that flatly contradicts this expert’s assertions—see March 29, 2006). The article notes the Justice Department’s objections to Klein’s documents being filed with the court in the EFF lawsuit, and notes that the department withdrew its objections (see Late March - April 4, 2006). It also notes AT&T’s request for the court to order the EFF to return the documents because they are, the firm claimed, “proprietary” (see April 6-8, 2006). AT&T spokesman Walt Sharp says of Klein and the EFF lawsuit: “AT&T does follow all laws with respect to assistance offered to government agencies. However, we are not in a position to comment on matters of national security.” NSA spokesman Don Weber makes a similar statement: “It would be irresponsible of us to discuss actual or alleged operational issues as it would give those wishing to do harm to the United States the ability to adjust and potentially inflict harm.” [New York Times, 4/12/2006] Klein will write of the story, “Finally it was out there in a major newspaper, though I noticed that the New York Times did not show any images of the actual documents, and never called me back for an in-depth followup story.” [Klein, 2009, pp. 71]

Entity Tags: J. Scott Marcus, Brian Reid, AT&T, Bush administration (43), Electronic Frontier Foundation, National Security Agency, Walter Sharp, Mark Klein, Don Weber, New York Times, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) publishes a set of three non-classified documents secured from telecommunications giant AT&T by former AT&T technician and current whistleblower Mark Klein. Klein has used the documents to prove his assertions that AT&T colluded with the National Security Agency to illegally eavesdrop on Americans’ telephone and Internet communications (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009). The EFF has sued AT&T for violating its customers’ privacy, and Klein and the documents are key elements of its case (see February 23-28, 2006). After years of opposing their public disclosure and attempting to force their return (see April 6-8, 2006), AT&T acquiesced to the documents’ disclosure earlier this week after the EFF threatened to take the corporation to a federal appeals court. The documents were released in part by Wired News over a year ago against AT&T’s wishes (see May 17, 2006), and PBS also made them public as a part of a Frontline documentary. The Justice Department considered classifying the documents, then rejected the idea (see Late March - April 4, 2006). According to EFF’s Cindy Cohn, AT&T agreed to the disclosure of those portions to escape the embarrassment of arguing that documents available on the Internet for more than a year were secret. Wired’s Ryan Singel writes: “There are no surprises in the AT&T documentation… which consist of a subset of the pages already published by Wired News. They include AT&T wiring diagrams, equipment lists, and task orders that appear to show the company tapping into fiber-optic cables at the point where its backbone network connects to other ISPs at a San Francisco switching office. The documents appear to show the company siphoning off the traffic to a room packed with Internet-monitoring gear.” The EFF also releases a formerly sealed, signed declaration by Klein (see February 23-28, 2006) and a written analysis of the documentation by Internet expert J. Scott Marcus (see March 29, 2006). Marcus’s analysis, which had previously remained largely under court-ordered seal, is “the most interesting” of the releases, Singel writes. Marcus said the AT&T technical configuration allowed the NSA to conduct “surveillance and analysis of Internet content on a massive scale, including both overseas and purely domestic traffic,” and found it probable that AT&T had “15 or 20” secret facilities around the country, not just the few facilities of which Klein was aware. AT&T, with the Justice Department, is trying to prevent EFF’s lawsuit from continuing, insisting that such a trial would expose “state secrets” (see April 28, 2006 and May 13, 2006). Judge Vaughn Walker has already considered and dismissed that claim (see July 20, 2006); AT&T and the government hope an appeals court will find in their favor. Cohn tells Singel she hopes the documents will show the public that their case is based in fact and not speculation, and that the government’s claim of a national security risk is overblown: “It really paints them into a corner, how unreasonable their claims of state secrets are. I’m hoping [the document release] demonstrates we are right and know what we are talking about and that we don’t need much more to win our case. We are much closer than people think.” [Wired News, 6/13/2007]

Entity Tags: J. Scott Marcus, Cindy Cohn, AT&T, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Mark Klein, National Security Agency, Wired News, Ryan Singel, US Department of Justice, Vaughn Walker

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties


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