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Context of 'February 2001: ’Project Groundbreaker’ Set Up to Monitor Domestic Phone Communications'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event February 2001: ’Project Groundbreaker’ Set Up to Monitor Domestic Phone Communications. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

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

Retired AT&T technician Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009), working with a civil liberties group and a reporter to expose the collusion of AT&T and the National Security Agency in pushing the government’s illegal surveillance program (see Early January 2006 and January 23, 2006 and After), contacts the office of Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) at the advice of Electronic Frontier Foundation lawyer Kevin Bankston. Klein talks to Feinstein’s chief attorney in Washington, DC, Steven Cash. Klein will later write: “I instinctively recoiled at the thought of trying to approach her as my memory of her record told me she was no friend of civil liberties, though she plays one on TV. My instinct was not wrong.” After an initial discussion with Cash, Klein emails him his packet of documentation (see December 31, 2005). On the afternoon of February 3, Cash calls Klein and says he is very interested in his story, though Feinstein’s staff rates the probability of the NSA performing illegal acts at somewhere around “50-50,” according to Klein. Cash promises to get back in touch with Klein on February 6, but fails to do so. Neither Klein nor his attorneys (see Early January 2006) are able to talk to anyone on Feinstein’s staff from here on. Klein later writes: “The silent message was unmistakable: the senator did not want to sully her political skirts by having contact with a whistleblower. And this was a foretaste of her behavior and voting for the next two and a half years. At every turn, she was there pushing for immunity for the telecom companies in the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees; peddling her toothless restatement of the ‘exclusive means’ clause of FISA [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—see 1978] as a substitute for any confrontation with the president over ongoing illegal NSA spying; ushering former NSA Director Michael Hayden through his nomination for CIA director; and backing Michael Mukasey as a clone replacement for the resigning Attorney General [Alberto] Gonzales. Moreover, this ultimately turned out to be the attitude of virtually the entire Democratic Party leadership, not to mention the Republicans.” Klein will explain that FISA’s “exclusive means” clause states that FISA should be the “exclusive means” for the federal government to conduct surveillance. Congress’s duty under the law was, Klein will state, to enforce the law against President Bush, “who openly flouted the law.” Instead, Klein will claim, Feinstein uses the “exclusive means” clause to protect the Bush administration and the telecom firms. [Klein, 2009, pp. 57-60]

Entity Tags: Electronic Frontier Foundation, AT&T, Dianne Feinstein, Mark Klein, National Security Agency, Steven Cash, Kevin Bankston

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

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