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Context of 'May 13, 2006: Justice Department Files Brief for Dismissal of AT&T Lawsuit on ‘State Secrets’ Grounds'

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Retired AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009 and May 2004) is gladdened to see the New York Times’s reports on the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005 and December 24, 2005). Klein has known since 2002 that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been using AT&T facilities to illegally eavesdrop on American citizens’ telephone and Internet communications (see Late 2002, January 2003, October 2003, Fall 2003, Late 2003, Late 2003, and January 16, 2004). He has considered going public with his knowledge, but has so far refrained because, he will later explain, “[t]he atmosphere was still kind of scary.” He will later say of the Times report, “They seemed to be talking mainly about phone calls, but anyway, it was revealed that there was an illegal spying program going on, and I thought, ‘Ah, this would probably blow the whole thing,’ and I thought it would all come out, and I don’t need to do anything.” However, Klein is horrified to see the government’s response. He will say: “[W]hat came out was the government turned around and went on the offensive against anybody who would dare to criticize them.… They’re issuing threats: Anyone who has a security clearance and spills any beans here is in for prosecution. That was deliberately said by them several times on TV to intimidate anybody in, say, the NSA who knew the truth, intimidate them so they would not come forward. So that silenced anybody in the intelligence community” (see December 17, 2005, December 19, 2005, December 21, 2005, December 30, 2005, and January 25-26, 2006). In his 2009 book Wiring Up the Big Brother Machine… and Fighting It, Klein will write that the Justice Department’s December 2005 investigation into the leak of classified information that led to the Times reports (see December 30, 2005) “was obviously intended to silence Congress, the media, and any potential whistleblowers inside the NSA who might have been tempted to come forward. The administration was manipulating the secrecy oath which people had taken to get security clearances, turning it into a weapon to silence anyone who had knowledge of wrongdoing.” Klein decides that he must come forward. He never received a security clearance, so he cannot be threatened with legal action over violating such clearance. He will explain: “All I had and still have are some company documents and some knowledge of some illicit NSA installation at AT&T’s network. And if anybody—say, Congress—was willing to follow the trail, I can give them all the names they want, and they can go up the hierarchy of AT&T all the way up to Dave Dorman, who was the president back then, and they can go even higher, and they can find out who is responsible for this, and they can ask them under oath and subpoena what the heck is going on here, if they had the will to do it.” Klein later admits to some hesitation and trepidation at undertaking such an effort, and will cite the “McCarthyite” atmosphere he says the government has created in which “dissidents become the target of a lynch mob searching for ‘terrorists.’” But, he will write, he believes the Times stories are “a political indication of a shift at the top of government, a split of some kind which could provide an opening.… Maybe they would publish my material, I thought, and that would provide some protection.” By December 31, Klein writes a preface to his memo from almost two years before (see January 16, 2004 and December 31, 2005). [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007; Klein, 2009, pp. 52-53]

Entity Tags: New York Times, AT&T, Bush administration (43), National Security Agency, US Department of Justice, Mark Klein

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Retired AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009 and May 2004), angered by the Bush administration’s counterattack against government and media members who have helped to expose its warrantless wiretapping operation (see December 15-31, 2005) and having prepared evidence to prove his knowledge of AT&T’s complicity with the NSA in setting in motion that operation (see December 31, 2005), begins searching for a civil liberties group that might be interested in his work. He quickly determines that two organizations, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), might be his best choices. Reluctant to use the telephone for fear of surveillance, he visits the EPIC offices, where he gives a lawyer a copy of the CD containing his evidence, printouts, and a disk copy of his PGP privacy key for public dissemination. He will later say that the lawyer on site is “polite” but shows little interest. When two weeks go by without any contact from EPIC, he journeys to San Francisco to the EFF offices with his documentation in hand. The reception at EFF is far different from the polite disinterest evidenced at EPIC. Executive director Shari Steele escorts him to speak with senior attorneys Kevin Bankston and Lee Tien. The EFF staffers tell Klein that their organization is already preparing a lawsuit against AT&T for illegally providing its customers’ telephone records to the government (see January 31, 2006), and his evidence will be very useful in the suit. Klein later writes, “I felt a sense of relief, that I had found the right place: a group that wanted to take on this fight.” EFF’s initial lawsuit does not include Klein’s material, but the organization will use it in the court proceedings. [Klein, 2009, pp. 55-56]

Entity Tags: Electronic Frontier Foundation, AT&T, Bush administration (43), Electronic Privacy Information Center, Kevin Bankston, Shari Steele, Lee Tien, Mark Klein

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Electronic Frontier Foundation logo.Electronic Frontier Foundation logo. [Source: Flickr.com]The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a civil liberties and privacy-advocacy organization, files a lawsuit against telecommunications giant AT&T for allegedly violating the law and the privacy of its citizens by cooperating with the National Security Agency in the NSA’s construction of what the EFF calls a “massive, illegal program to wiretap and data-mine Americans’ communications.” EFF lawyer Kevin Bankston says: “Our goal is to go after the people who are making the government’s illegal surveillance possible. They could not do what they are doing without the help of companies like AT&T. We want to make it clear to AT&T that it is not in their legal or economic interests to violate the law whenever the president asks them to.”
Unprecedented Access to Communications System - EFF alleges that as part of the NSA’s domestic spying program, AT&T has allowed the NSA direct access to the phone and Internet communications passing over its network, and has given the government “unfettered access to its over 300 terabyte ‘Daytona’ database of caller information—one of the largest databases in the world.” One of AT&T’s databases, nicknamed “Hawkeye,” contains 312 terabytes of data detailing nearly every telephone communication on AT&T’s domestic network since 2001, the lawsuit alleges. The suit goes on to claim that AT&T allowed the NSA to use the company’s powerful Daytona database management software to quickly search this and other communication databases. AT&T, the suit claims, is in violation of the First and Fourth Amendments, federal wiretapping statutes, telecommunications laws, and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. The suit requests fines up to $22,000 for each AT&T customer, and punitive fines—damages that could potentially reach into the billions of dollars. The EFF lawsuit is one of over 30 lawsuits filed for similar reasons (see June 26, 2006). The lawsuit will survive a number of initial legal challenges by the Justice Department and AT&T, including AT&T’s contention that “whatever we did, the government told us to do” and therefore it should be immune from such lawsuits, and the Justice Department’s invocation of “national security” and the possibility of the revelation of “state secrets” (see March 9, 1953). EFF retorts, “In this country we follow the law, we don’t just follow orders.” Bankston tells a reporter, “If state secrecy can prevent us from preserving the rights of millions upon millions of people, then there is a profound problem with the law.”
Suit Alleges Criminal Actions, Does Not Challenge Government's Right to Wiretap - The lawsuit does not challenge the government’s right to electronically monitor legitimate terrorism suspects, nor does it challenge the judicial right to issue warrants for such surveillance. Rather, EFF writes: “Wiretaps on terrorists are allowed under the law, and this lawsuit is not challenging the wiretap laws. We have sued AT&T for breaking those laws—the telecommunications giant gave the government access to its communications switches and its huge databases of information on millions of ordinary Americans. These are AT&T customers who have not even been accused of affiliations with terrorists. Americans can be both safe and free: if the government truly believes it has cause to wiretap a suspect, it can order AT&T to provide information under FISA [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act]—for up to 72 hours before going to the court. But AT&T has no business providing direct access to the communications of millions of ordinary Americans, without the checks and balances of Congress or the courts.” [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 1/31/2006; Wired News, 1/31/2006]

Entity Tags: Electronic Frontier Foundation, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, National Security Agency, AT&T, US Department of Justice, Kevin Bankston

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Justice Department announces that it is invoking the “state secrets” clause to prevent a lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) against AT&T from going forward (see March 9, 1953 and January 31, 2006). The EFF is suing AT&T for compromising its customers’ privacy by colluding with the National Security Agency (NSA) in that agency’s domestic surveillance program. The government alleges that the lawsuit would reveal “state secrets” critical to “national security” if it continues. The Justice Department makes its initial filing in mid-May (see May 13, 2006). [US District Court, Northern District of California, 4/28/2006 pdf file; Klein, 2009, pp. 71]

Entity Tags: Electronic Frontier Foundation, AT&T, National Security Agency, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Justice Department files a brief with the US District Court of Northern California asking that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)‘s lawsuit against AT&T (see January 31, 2006) be dismissed on the grounds that it would breach “state secrets” vital to “national security.” The Justice Department publicly announced its intentions of asking that the lawsuit be dismissed on those grounds two weeks ago (see April 28, 2006). EFF is suing AT&T for compromising its customers’ privacy by colluding with the National Security Agency (NSA) in that agency’s domestic surveillance program. The lawsuit is Hepting, et al v. AT&T, often shortened in the media to Hepting v. AT&T. The government submits a number of secret documents to Judge Vaughn Walker as evidence, along with a heavily redacted document submitted for public perusal. Other documents include affidavits from the Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, and the head of the NSA, Lieutenant General Keith Alexander. Some observers believe that Walker, a conservative appointed to the bench by President George H.W. Bush, will quickly comply with the government’s request. However, as AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009), who is working with EFF on the lawsuit (see Early January 2006), will later write, Vaughn is independent-minded and possessed of a “strong libertarian bent,” and will not be so prone to do the government’s bidding as some believe. [Klein, 2009, pp. 72-73] Walker’s first hearing on the brief will be held four days later (see May 17, 2006).

Entity Tags: John Negroponte, AT&T, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Keith Alexander, Mark Klein, US Department of Justice, Vaughn Walker, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Judge Vaughn Walker of the US District Court of Northern California holds a hearing on the government’s request to have the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)‘s lawsuit against AT&T dismissed (see May 13, 2006). The Justice Department says the lawsuit must be dismissed on the grounds that it would breach “state secrets” vital to “national security” if allowed to go forward. EFF is suing AT&T for compromising its customers’ privacy by colluding with the National Security Agency (NSA) in that agency’s domestic surveillance program (see January 31, 2006). AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009), who is working with EFF on the lawsuit (see Early January 2006), attends the hearing along with a small phalanx of lawyers; a woman slips a piece of paper into his hand containing her name and the telephone number for CBS News’s 60 Minutes. The AT&T lawyers are furious at Klein because an online news site, Wired News, just published his 2005 memo containing evidence against AT&T that the firm wants suppressed (see May 17, 2006). Klein will later write that he has no knowledge of how Wired News received the document, though the AT&T lawyers believe he supplied it to Wired News, and he will say he is pleased at the publication. (Wired News will later explain why it chose to publish the document—see May 22, 2006.) In the hearing, Walker refuses to order Klein to return the documents to AT&T, noting that Klein is not a plaintiff in the case and therefore Walker lacks the judicial authority to make such an order. Walker advises AT&T if it wants the documents back, it will have to sue Klein for their return. EFF lawyer Cindy Cohn challenges the government’s claim that the lawsuit should be dismissed on “state secrets” grounds, arguing that “this can be litigated without reference to any state secrets.… The question is whether the information has been acquired by AT&T in order to give it to the government and whether it’s been divulged to the government and what the government does with that information afterward, which I think could implicate state secrets, is completely irrelevant, or not necessary for us to pursue this case.” The motion to dismiss is not decided in this hearing. [Klein, 2009, pp. 73-78]

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

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

The cover of Mark Klein’s ‘Wiring Up the Big Brother Machine… and Fighting It.’The cover of Mark Klein’s ‘Wiring Up the Big Brother Machine… and Fighting It.’ [Source: BookSurge / aLibris (.com)]Former AT&T technician Mark Klein self-publishes his book, Wiring Up the Big Brother Machine… and Fighting It. In his acknowledgements, Klein writes that he chose to self-publish (through BookSurge, a pay-to-publish venue) because “[t]he big publishers never called me,” and the single small publishing house that offered to publish his book added “an unacceptable requirement to cut core material.” Klein based his book on his experiences as an AT&T engineer at the telecom giant’s San Francisco facility, where he primarily worked with AT&T’s Internet service. In 2002 and 2003, Klein witnessed the construction of of a “secret room,” a facility within the facility that was used by the National Security Agency (NSA) to gather billions of email, telephone, VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol), and text messages, most of which were sent by ordinary Americans. The NSA did its electronic surveillance, Klein writes, secretly and without court warrants. Klein describes himself as “wiring up the Big Brother machine,” and was so concerned about the potential illegality and constitutional violations of the NSA’s actions (with AT&T’s active complicity) that he retained a number of non-classified documents proving the extent of the communications “vacuuming” being done. Klein later used those documents to warn a number of reporters, Congressional members, and judges of what he considered a horrific breach of Americans’ right to privacy. [Klein, 2009, pp. 9-11, 21-24, 33, 35, 38, 40] In 2007, Klein described his job with the firm as “basically to keep the systems going. I worked at AT&T for 22 and a half years. My job was basically to keep the systems going. They were computer systems, network communication systems, Internet equipment, Voice over Internet [Protocol (VoIP)] equipment. I tested circuits long distance across the country. That was my job: to keep the network up.” He explained why he chose to become a “whistleblower:” “Because I remember the last time this happened.… I did my share of anti-war marches when that was an active thing back in the ‘60s, and I remember the violations and traffic transgressions that the government pulled back then for a war that turned out to be wrong, and a lot of innocent people got killed over it. And I’m seeing all this happening again, only worse. When the [NSA] got caught in the ‘70s doing domestic spying, it was a big scandal, and that’s why Congress passed the FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] law, as you know, to supposedly take care of that (see 1978). So I remember all that. And the only way any law is worth anything is if there’s a memory so that people can say: ‘Wait a minute. This happened before.’ And you’ve got to step forward and say: ‘I remember this. This is the same bad thing happening again, and there should be a halt to it.’ And I’m a little bit of that institutional memory in the country; that’s all.” [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, AT&T, BookSurge, Mark Klein

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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