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Context of 'Morning August 29, 2005: Katrina Knocks out Telecommunications Systems in New Orleans, Gulf Coast Area'

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Throughout the day of 9/11 and after, members of the public in New York City experience significant communications problems, particularly with cell phones. “In the aftermath [of the attacks], and for several days afterwards, cellular phone services were either not working or were severely overloaded.” [SatNews, 10/19/2001] As Time magazine reports, “Lines formed, at least 20 people long, at all pay phones, because cell phones were not working.” [Time, 9/14/2001] (Reportedly, though, the 911 system is not disrupted.) Later accounts will suggest that an increased volume of phone calls being made in response to the attacks may have overloaded networks. Within minutes of the first attack, according to the New York Times, there were “tens of millions of [phone] calls—many from worried relatives and friends—that threatened to clog the system.” [New York Times, 9/20/2001] The call volume of Verizon Communications, which has its main regional switching station across the street from the World Trade Center, reaches twice its normal daily rate of 115 million calls in New York City. “And although it remained operational, the wireless network experienced massive congestion that prevented most calls from getting through. During the peak of the chaos, Verizon experienced nearly 100 percent more traffic than normal on its nationwide wireless network.” [Verton, 2003, pp. 148] Some of the communications problems in the New York area are later attributed to physical damage to the infrastructure. A report by the Mineta Transportation Institute will summarize, “The collapse of the World Trade Center towers knocked out Verizon’s switching center in Lower Manhattan and severely damaged the infrastructure for cellular telephones. Telephone communications for NYPD Command and Control was also destroyed in the attack. As a consequence, cell phone service was subsequently overloaded. NYC Transit lost a key portion of its fiber-optic network in one tunnel.” [Jenkins and Edwards-Winslow, 9/2003, pp. 33] Similar communication problems are also experienced around Washington, DC, and some top government officials are affected (see (After 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to one government official, the nation was “deaf, dumb, and blind” for much of the day. [Verton, 2003, pp. 151]

Entity Tags: Verizon Communications, Verizon Wireless

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Babak Pasdar.Babak Pasdar. [Source: Bat Blue]Babak Pasdar, a computer security consultant for a wireless telecommunications carrier, leads a “Rapid Deployment” team to revamp the carrier’s security on its internal network. Pasdar discovers a so-called “Quantico Circuit”—a 45 megabit-per-second DS-3 line linking the carrier’s most sensitive network to an unnamed third party. When Pasdar inquires about the circuit, the carrier’s officials become uncommunicative. Wired News will later note that Quantico is the Virginia town that hosts the FBI’s electronic surveillance operations. Pasdar later writes in an affidavit: “The circuit was tied to the organization’s core network. It had access to the billing system, text messaging, fraud detection, Web site, and pretty much all the systems in the data center without apparent restrictions.” In 2008, Pasdar will come forward with the evidence (see March 6, 2008), leading observers to believe that the carrier was providing illegal access to its customers’ information to a US government agency, perhaps the FBI. Wired News will note that Pasdar’s allegations almost perfectly mirror similar allegations made against Verizon Wireless in a 2006 lawsuit (see January 31, 2006). [Wired News, 3/6/2008]

Entity Tags: Babak Pasdar, Wired News, Verizon Wireless

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Most landline and cell phone service companies report that their key telecommunications hubs in the Gulf Coast have been damaged and are virtually nonoperable. Cell phone service is spotty and long-distance callers get only signals on Monday as Hurricane Katrina knocked out key telecommunications hubs along the Gulf Coast. Sprint Nextel’s long-distance switch in New Orleans fails soon after the storm hits, due to flooding and power loss. Some AT&T facilities initially run on backup generators, but many are out of service because of flooding. MCI reports that at least one fiber cable has been cut and other facilities have “some water issues.” Due to power outages, Cingular Wireless cellular can only provide service at “significantly reduced levels” in the Biloxi, and New Orleans areas. Verizon Wireless’s towers are disconnected due to flooding and wire disruptions. [Associated Press, 8/29/2005]

Entity Tags: Cingular Wireless, Verizon Wireless, AT&T, MCI, Hurricane Katrina

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Two public interest lawyers sue Verizon Communications for $5 billion, claiming the telecommunications firm violated privacy laws by giving the phone records of its customers to the NSA for that agency’s secret, warrantless domestic surveillance program. Lawyers Bruce Afran and Carl Mayer are asking that Verizon stop turning over its records to the NSA without either a court order or the consent of the customer. Afran says of the NSA program, “This is the largest and most vast intrusion of civil liberties we’ve ever seen in the United States.” [CBS News, 5/12/2006] Days later, AT&T and BellSouth are added to the lawsuit. [CNN, 5/17/2006]
Verizon Helped Build an NSA Database? - The day before, the press reports that the NSA has built a database of millions of domestic phone records since shortly after the 9/11 attacks, using records from Verizon, BellSouth, and AT&T (see May 11, 2006). Former Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio, whose firm refused to cooperate with the NSA, says that he was approached months before the attacks to help set up such a program (see February 27, 2001). The NSA has the power, under President Bush’s interpretation of his wartime authority, to have the agency eavesdrop on international calls made to or from the US, but cannot legally eavesdrop on internal calls unless it has a court order. The lawsuit claims that the telecoms violated the Constitution and the Telecommunications Act by giving its records to the government without court authorization. The lawsuit seeks $1,000 for each violation of the Telecommunications Act, or $5 billion if the case is certified as a class-action suit. The lawyers are seeking documents detailing the origins of the NSA program, as well as Bush’s own role in authorizing the program. “Federal law prohibits the phone companies from giving records to the government without a warrant,” says Afran. “There was no warrant, nor was there any attempt to get warrants, which is in violation of the constitution and the Telecommunications Act.” [CBS News, 5/12/2006; CNET News, 5/15/2006] Afran says, “One of the purposes of this case is to, quite frankly, hold the threat of financial destruction over the heads of the phone companies to make them abandon this policy of cooperating with warrantless searches by the government.” [National Public Radio, 5/17/2006] The lawsuit alleges that Verizon constructed a dedicated fiber optic line from New Jersey to a large military base in Quantico, Virginia, that allowed government officials to gain access to all communications flowing through the carrier’s operations center. A former consultant who worked on internal security will later say he had tried numerous times to install safeguards on the line to prevent hacking on the system, as he was doing for other lines at the operations center, but he was prevented from doing so by a senior security official. One of the allegations against Verizon in the lawsuit is made by Philadelphia resident Norman LeBoon, who says after he read of the alleged surveillance of US citizens, he began asking Verizon if his landline communications were being shared. LeBoon says he eventually spoke with “Ellen” in Verizon customer service, who told him, “I can tell you, Mr. LeBoon, that your records have been shared with the government, but that’s between you and me.… They [Verizon] are going to deny it because of national security. The government is denying it and we have to deny it, too. Around here we are saying that Verizon has ‘plausible deniability.’” [Truthdig, 8/9/2007]
AT&T Grants Unlimited Access? - The lawsuit claims that in February 2001, days before Qwest was approached, NSA officials met with AT&T officials to discuss replicating an AT&t network center to give the agency access to all the global phone and e-mail traffic that ran through it (see February 2001).
Earlier Reporting Made Key Error - Earlier reporting of the NSA’s cooperation with the telecoms got a key detail wrong, says telecom analyst Scott Cleland: “What I think people got wrong with the original reporting, was that this was local phone companies tracking local phone calls. What is clear now is they were tracking long distance calls.” [National Public Radio, 5/17/2006]

Entity Tags: Norman LeBoon, Qwest, National Security Agency, George W. Bush, Joe Nacchio, Michael Hayden, Bruce Afran, Carl Mayer, Verizon Communications

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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