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Context of 'Late 2002: AT&T Technician Convinced Joint AT&T/NSA Venture Connected to Government Information Collection Program'

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The National Security Agency seeks the assistance of global telecommunications corporation AT&T to help it set up a domestic call monitoring site to eavesdrop on US citizens’ phone communications, according to court papers filed in June 2006 as part of a lawsuit against AT&T (see October 2001). The NSA is expressly forbidden from spying on US citizens within US borders unless authorized by the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Court (FISC) (see 1978). When the NSA program, which wiretaps phone and email communications often without court warrants, becomes public knowledge well over four years later (see December 15, 2005), President Bush, NSA Director Michael Hayden, and other White House and government officials will assert that the program was set up in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. If the claims made in the lawsuit are accurate, these assertions are provably false. “The Bush administration asserted this became necessary after 9/11,” lawyer Carl Mayer will claim in 2006. “This undermines that assertion.” Unbeknownst to most Americans, the NSA is operating a secret “data mining” operation that, by 2006, will have compiled phone records and contact information on millions of domestic phone and email communications. The NSA project is code-named “Project Groundbreaker,” and is ostensibly an above-board attempt announced in June 2000 to have AT&T and other firms help modernize its technological capabilities. The project originally seeks to have AT&T build a network operations center that duplicates AT&T’s facility in Bedminster, New Jersey; this plan will be altered when the NSA decides it will be better served by acquiring the monitoring technology itself. The agency is seeking bids for a project to “modernize and improve its information technology infrastructure,” including the privatization of its “non-mission related” systems support. [TechWeb, 6/13/2000; Bloomberg, 6/30/2006] Groundbreaker’s privatization project is expected to provide up to $5 billion in government contracts to various private firms such as AT&T, Computer Sciences Corporation, and OAO Corporation, [Computerworld, 12/4/2000; Government Executive, 9/1/2001] and up to 750 NSA employees will become private contractors. Hayden, who has aggressively instituted a corporate management protocol to enhance productivity and has brought in numerous senior managers and agency executives from private defense firms, is a strong proponent of privatizing and outsourcing much of the NSA’s technological operations, and in 2001 will say that he wants the agency to focus on its primary task of breaking codes and conducting surveillance. Hayden does not admit that Groundbreaker is part of a larger NSA domestic surveillance program, [Government Executive, 9/1/2001] and publicly, NSA officials say that the project is limited to administrative and logistics functions. [Computerworld, 12/4/2000] The covert data mining portion of the project is code-named “Pioneer.” A former, unnamed employee of the NSA, [Bloomberg, 6/30/2006] and a former AT&T technician, Mark Klein, will provide the key information about Groundbreaker (see Late 2002, July 7, 2009 and December 15-31, 2005). Klein will say in 2006 that he saw the NSA construct a clandestine area within its switching center in San Francisco, and saw NSA technicians shunt fiber optic cable carrying Internet traffic into that area, which contains a large data bank and secret data mining hardware (see April 6, 2006). Klein will say he knew that the NSA built other such facilities in other switching locations. He will go on to say that the NSA did not work with just AT&T traffic; when AT&T’s network connected with other networks, the agency acquired access to that traffic as well. [Democracy Now!, 5/12/2006] The information about AT&T and the NSA will become public knowledge after the 2006 filing of a lawsuit against AT&T and other telecommunications firms (see May 12, 2006 and June 26, 2006).

Entity Tags: Mark Klein, Michael Hayden, George W. Bush, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Bush administration (43), Carl Mayer, Computer Sciences Corporation, AT&T, National Security Agency, OAO Corporation

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Vice Admiral John Poindexter testifying before Congress in the Iran Contra hearings in 1987.Vice Admiral John Poindexter testifying before Congress in the Iran Contra hearings in 1987. [Source: Associated Press]Vice Admiral John Poindexter begins running a shadowy new government agency called the Information Awareness Office. [New York Times, 2/13/2002; Federal Computer Week, 10/17/2002] Poindexter, formerly President Reagan’s National Security Adviser, is known for his five felony convictions of lying to Congress, destroying documents, and obstructing Congress in its investigation of his role in the mid-1980s Iran-Contra affair. Later his convictions were overturned on a technicality. [Los Angeles Times, 11/17/2002] Far from apologizing, Poindexter said it was his duty to lie to Congress. [Newsday, 12/1/2002] The New York Times notes that his new agency “is developing technologies to give federal officials instant access to vast new surveillance and information-analysis systems.” The new office is part of DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Poindexter was also known for his controversial role in shifting control of computer security to the military in the 1980s. Says Marc Rotenberg, former counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee, “It took three administrations and both political parties over a decade to correct those mistakes.” [New York Times, 2/13/2002] Surprisingly, Poindexter’s appointment is little noticed until later in 2002 when the Total Information Awareness program is revealed (see March 2002; November 9, 2002). Incidentally, several others involved in the Iran-Contra affair also find jobs in the Bush Administration, including Elliott Abrams, John Negroponte, and Otto Reich. [Observer, 12/8/2002]

Entity Tags: Total Information Awareness, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, John Poindexter

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Iran-Contra Affair


This partial image from a Total Information Awareness slide presentation shows types of data that will be collected. Note that
even “gait” - the way one walks, will be analyzed.
This partial image from a Total Information Awareness slide presentation shows types of data that will be collected. Note that even “gait” - the way one walks, will be analyzed. [Source: DARPA]The US military internally announces the creation of a new global data collection system called Total Information Awareness. The existence of this program is not reported until August 2002 [Wired News, 8/7/2002] , and not widely known until November 2002 (see November 9, 2002). Interestingly, the early accounts of this program suggest its budget is a “significant amount” of $96 million [Federal Computer Week, 10/17/2002] , and not the $10 million later reported. [Guardian, 11/23/2002] It is also reported that “parts” of the program “are already operational” whereas later it is said to be only in the conceptual stages of development. [Federal Computer Week, 10/17/2002]

Entity Tags: Total Information Awareness, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Veteran AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009) is startled when he receives an email informing him and his colleagues that a representative from the National Security Agency (NSA) will soon arrive to conduct “some kind of business.” Klein works at the Geary Street facility in San Francisco, helping provide Internet, VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol), and data transport between the US and the Far East. Klein and his supervisor, Don Henry, soon learn that one of their colleagues, one of AT&T’s senior “field support specialists” whom Klein will only identify as “Ski,” is to be interviewed by the NSA for a security clearance. Ski is slated to begin working in an NSA-operated “secure facility” at AT&T’s Folsom Street facility in San Francisco. [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007; Klein, 2009, pp. 22-25] Klein later says of the NSA visit: “That struck me as a little odd to begin with, because I remember from back in the ‘70s, the NSA is not supposed to be doing domestic spying, so what were they doing in an AT&T company office? It struck me as odd, but I didn’t know anything more about it, so I just let it lie and waited for the guy to come.” Klein will later describe the NSA representative as “closemouthed and unsmiling, and he did his business.” Klein decides that the NSA visit was a one-time affair, and he thinks no more of it for the time being. [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007]

Entity Tags: Mark Klein, AT&T, “Ski” (AT&T field support specialist), Don Henry, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

According to the later recollections of senior AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009), rumors are swirling throughout AT&T regarding a “secret room” being built at the company’s facility at 611 Folsom Street in San Francisco (see Summer 2002). (At this time, Klein works at another AT&T facility located on San Francisco’s Geary Street; he will later begin working at the Folsom Street facility.) In January 2003, Klein will learn that the rumors are true, and that the room is to be used by the National Security Agency (NSA) (see January 2003). [Klein, 2009, pp. 26-28]

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

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties


The original logo for the Total Information Awareness program. An eye from a Masonic pyramid appears to cast a beam over the world, with Muslim regions highlighted. [<a href=“http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2002/11/20/MN218568.DTL” target=_new>San Francisco Chronicle, 11/20/02</a>, <a href=“http://www.guardian.co.uk/Print/0,3858,4552953,00.html” target=_new>Guardian, 11/23/02</a>] The motto, Scientia Est Potentia, means “knowledge is power.” The logo is later removed from the department’s website. [<a href=“http://www.sunspot.net/news/nationworld/bal-spy1503,0,4325331.story?coll=bal-home-headlines” target=_new>Baltimore Sun, 1/5/03</a>]
The original logo for the Total Information Awareness program. An eye from a Masonic pyramid appears to cast a beam over the world, with Muslim regions highlighted. [San Francisco Chronicle, 11/20/02, Guardian, 11/23/02] The motto, Scientia Est Potentia, means “knowledge is power.” The logo is later removed from the department’s website. [Baltimore Sun, 1/5/03] [Source: DARPA]The New York Times exposes the existence of John Poindexter’s Total Information Awareness data collection program, begun in early 2002 (see Mid-January 2002; March 2002). [New York Times, 11/9/2002] Conservative columnist William Safire writes, “If the Homeland Security Act is not amended before passage, here is what will happen to you: Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every Web site you visit and e-mail you send or receive, every academic grade you receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book and every event you attend—all these transactions and communications will go into what the Defense Department describes as ‘a virtual, centralized grand database.’ To this computerized dossier on your private life from commercial sources, add every piece of information that government has about you—passport application, driver’s license and bridge toll records, judicial and divorce records, complaints from nosy neighbors to the FBI, your lifetime paper trail plus the latest hidden camera surveillance—and you have the supersnoop’s dream: a ‘Total Information Awareness’ about every US citizen.” [New York Times, 11/14/2002] Poindexter says it will take years to realize his vision, but his office has already begun providing some technology to government agencies. [Washington Post, 11/12/2002] The existence of this program, and the fact that Poindexter is running it, causes concern for many on both the left and right. [USA Today, 1/16/2003] It is regularly called Orwellian, conjuring visions of 1984’s Big Brother, and even supporters admit it sounds Orwellian. [Newsweek, 11/15/2002; Los Angeles Times, 11/17/2002; Guardian, 11/23/2002; Newsday, 12/1/2002; New Yorker, 12/9/2002; BBC, 12/12/2002; Dallas Morning News, 12/16/2002; Baltimore Sun, 1/5/2003] The New York Times suggests, “Congress should shut down the program pending a thorough investigation.” [New York Times, 11/18/2002] Experts question not only its civil liberties implications, but also if it is even feasible. If it does work, would its database be swapped with errors that could not be removed? (see March 2002) [Mercury News (San Jose), 12/26/2002] However, many newspapers fail to report on the program at all, and ABC is the only network to report the story on prime time television. [ABC News, 11/16/2002; ABC News, 11/25/2002] Despite so many objections, the program is included in the Homeland Security bill (see November 25, 2002), and only later somewhat curbed by Congress (see January 23, 2003).

Entity Tags: John Poindexter, William Safire, Homeland Security Act, Total Information Awareness

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Iran-Contra Affair

Veteran AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009) becomes convinced that the “secure facility” being constructed at an AT&T facility in San Francisco (see Summer 2002 and Fall 2002) has some connection to the Bush administration’s “Total Information Awareness” program (see Mid-January 2002 and March 2002). The press has recently begun reporting on the program (see November 9, 2002). In 2007, Klein will tell a reporter: “You might recall there [around this time] was a big blowup in the news about the Total Information Awareness [TIA] program, led by Admiral [John] Poindexter, which caused the big upsetness in Congress, because what Poindexter was proposing to do was draw in databases from everywhere… draw in Internet data, bank records, travel records, everything into one big conglomeration which could be searchable by the government so they could find out everything about what anybody’s doing at any time of day. And all this would be done without any warrants.” Klein and other AT&T employees begin speculating that the “secure facility” might have some connection to Poindexter’s TIA program. “[T]he Total Information Awareness program is involved with the NSA [National Security Agency] and with DARPA, which is the Defense [Advanced Research] Projects Agency,” he will tell the reporter. “So I began to connect the two, because it seemed quite logical at least that if they are looking for large amounts of Internet data to sift through and vacuum up, what would be a perfect place? It would be in the Internet room at a place like AT&T. And lo and behold, the NSA guy shows up. Then I started learning that it’s not only a new room; it’s a room that all the technicians cannot go into. Only the one guy—a management guy, no union people—a management field specialist with security clearance obviously given to him by the NSA, only he could go into this room, which was being built on the sixth floor, right next door to the phone switch room. So I got very worried about that. What does this mean? What are they doing there?” In 2009, Klein will write, “Gradually I started to connect the TIA program with the curiously simultaneous appearance of the NSA at our office, and the more I learned about what they were installing, and where, the more I was convinced the two were connected.” [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007; Klein, 2009, pp. 25-26]

Entity Tags: Mark Klein, AT&T, Bush administration (43), National Security Agency, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Total Information Awareness, John Poindexter

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The NSA’s secret room in the AT&T switching center.The NSA’s secret room in the AT&T switching center. [Source: PBS]Veteran AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009) takes an informal tour of his company’s facility on San Francisco’s Folsom Street (see Late 2002), along with three other technicians from his Geary Street offices. The tour, Klein will later say, is to introduce the four technicians to the Folsom Street staff, “because they were obviously eventually planning to bring us over there.” Klein learns that the rumors of a “secret room” in the facility are true (see Fall 2002). The secret room is on the facility’s sixth floor and is being built to house some sort of equipment, but Klein is unsure exactly what that equipment might be. Klein and the others see the outer door of the secret room, and a workman working on the door “suddenly [began talking to Klein and his colleages in a] very low voice like he didn’t want to be overheard. He felt like this was something secret, you know, and he didn’t know much about it, and he was saying: ‘None of us can go in there. It’s all secret.’ This was not only an affront to the technicians; it was a violation of union rules, because they were obviously planning to install telecommunications equipment, which is supposed to be the jurisdiction of the union technicians. We had a contract. So the technicians were not only angry about this secret thing that they’re not let in on, but also the fact that there’s work there that they’re excluded from. And they were told nothing about it. So that was it.” Klein is further surprised to learn that only a single non-union technician (whom he only identifies as “Ski,” an AT&T “field support specialist” who has been granted a security clearance by the National Security Agency (NSA)), is allowed to work in the secure room. No union technicians are allowed in, even though the installation work being done is specifically contracted to the union workers. “The regular technician work force was not allowed in the room,” Klein will later state. Klein deduces that this secret room is the long-rumored NSA installation he has been hearing about. Moreover, he notes with some alarm that the room is next door to the 4ESS phone switch, “the traditional workhorse used for AT&T long-distance calls.” Klein will write, “Now my mental alarm bells were ringing, but for the moment there was nothing to do but take some mental notes, particularly since it was not clear exactly what they [the NSA and AT&T] were doing.” [Wired News, 4/7/2006; Democracy Now!, 5/12/2006; PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007; Klein, 2009, pp. 26-28] Klein will explain that he chooses not to say anything about his concerns because he is “scared for several reasons, one being, well, this is obviously secret. This is obviously some federal government secret operation that they don’t want nosy people nosing around in, and if I started asking questions I could get into trouble. Furthermore, our jobs were in jeopardy anyway, because [we] were always getting wind that they were planning to close our previous office at Geary Street, and I didn’t need to give them an excuse to fire me. So I thought after thinking about it that the best thing to do is not to say anything and just watch it.” [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007] He later learns that similar cabinets are being installed in AT&T centers in other cities, including Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles, and San Diego (see Late 2003). [Wired News, 4/7/2006] The Folsom Street facility is apparently connected to a more central surveillance facility operated out of one of AT&T’s main command centers in Missouri (see Late 2002-Early 2003).

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), AT&T, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Mark Klein, Terrorist Surveillance Program, “Ski” (AT&T field support specialist), National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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

Lawyers file court documents alleging that the National Security Agency (NSA) worked with AT&T to set up a domestic wiretapping site seven months before the 9/11 attacks. The papers are filed as part of a lawsuit, McMurray v. Verizon Communications, which cites as plaintiffs AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth customers whose privacy was allegedly violated by the NSA warrantless wiretapping program (see May 12, 2006); it also alleges that the firms, along with the NSA and President Bush, violated the Telecommunications Act of 1934 and the US Constitution. AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth have been accused of working with the NSA to set up domestic call monitoring sites (see October 2001). Evidence that the NSA set up domestic surveillance operations at least seven months before the 9/11 attacks is at the core of the lawsuit (see Spring 2001). The suit is similar to one filed against AT&T by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF—see January 31, 2006) and other such lawsuits. A lawyer for the plaintiffs in McMurray, Carl Mayer, says: “The Bush administration asserted this [the warrantless wiretapping program] became necessary after 9/11. This undermines that assertion.” AT&T spokesman Dave Pacholczyk responds, “The US Department of Justice has stated that AT&T may neither confirm nor deny AT&T’s participation in the alleged NSA program because doing so would cause ‘exceptionally grave harm to national security’ and would violate both civil and criminal statutes.” Verizon has denied being asked by the NSA for its customer phone records, and has refused to confirm or deny “whether it has any relationship to the classified NSA program.” BellSouth spokesman Jeff Battcher says: “We never turned over any records to the NSA. We’ve been clear all along that they’ve never contacted us. Nobody in our company has ever had any contact with the NSA.” The NSA domestic wiretapping program is known as “Pioneer Groundbreaker,” a part of the larger “Project Groundbreaker” (see February 2001). According to Mayer and his fellow lawyer Bruce Afran, an unnamed former employee of AT&T provided them with information about NSA’s approach to AT&T. (That former employee will later be revealed as retired technician Mark Klein—see Late 2002, July 7, 2009, December 15-31, 2005, and April 6, 2006). The lawsuit is on a temporary hiatus while a judicial panel rules on a government request to assign all of the telecommunications lawsuits to a single judge. [Bloomberg, 6/30/2006]

Entity Tags: Verizon Wireless, US Department of Justice, National Security Agency, George W. Bush, Jeff Battcher, Bruce Afran, BellSouth, AT&T, Mark Klein, Carl Mayer, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Dave Pacholczyk

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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