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Context of 'May 17, 2006: Court Holds First Hearing on Government’s Request to Dismiss 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 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

Wired News logo.Wired News logo. [Source: Delve Networks]Evan Hansen, the editor in chief of Wired News, an online technical news site, explains why the site published a set of documents from AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009). Klein is working with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in that organization’s lawsuit against AT&T for invading its customers’ privacy by taking part in the National Security Agency’s warrantless domestic wiretap operation (see January 31, 2006). The presiding judge, Vaughn Walker, has denied requests from the EFF and a number of news organizations to unseal the documents and make them public. For its part, AT&T wants the documents to remain sealed, claiming they are proprietary and that it would suffer harm if they were disclosed (see April 6-8, 2006). Hansen and the Wired News senior staff disagree. “In addition,” Hansen writes, “we believe the public’s right to know the full facts in this case outweighs AT&T’s claims to secrecy.” Hansen erroneously says that the documents seem “to be excerpted from material that was later filed in the lawsuit under seal,” though “we can’t be entirely sure, because the protective order prevents us from comparing the two sets of documents.” Klein later writes that the Wired News staff “confused my 2004 memo (see January 16, 2004) with my court-sealed legal declaration” (see February 23-28, 2006); even so, Klein will write, “it was true that all of the AT&T documents were still under court seal.” Hansen says Wired News reporter Ryan Singel received the Klein documents from “an anonymous source close to the litigation.” Hansen also writes: “We are filing a motion to intervene in the case in order to request that the court unseal the evidence, joining other news and civil rights organizations that have already done so, including the EFF, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Los Angeles Times, the San Jose Mercury News, the Associated Press, and Bloomberg. Before publishing these documents we showed them to independent security experts, who agreed they pose no significant danger to AT&T. For example, they do not reveal information that hackers might use to easily attack the company’s systems.” Hansen writes that Wired’s publication of the documents does not violate Walker’s gag order concerning the documents’ publication, as the order specifically bars the EFF and its representatives—and no one else—from publishing or discussing them. “The court explicitly rejected AT&T’s motion to include Klein in the gag order and declined AT&T’s request to force the EFF to return the documents,” he notes (see May 17, 2006). [Wired News, 5/22/2006; Klein, 2009, pp. 75]

Entity Tags: Vaughn Walker, AT&T, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Evan Hansen, Mark Klein, Ryan Singel, Wired News, National Security Agency

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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