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Profile: Kim Zetter

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Kim Zetter was a participant or observer in the following events:

An aerial view of the AT&T Easylink Service building in Bridgeton, Missouri, where the NSA allegedly has secret facilities.An aerial view of the AT&T Easylink Service building in Bridgeton, Missouri, where the NSA allegedly has secret facilities. [Source: USGS via Microsoft]On behalf of the National Security Agency (NSA), AT&T constructs a secret, highly secured room in its network operations center in Bridgeton, Missouri, used to conduct secret government wiretapping operations. This is a larger and more elaborate “data mining” center than the one AT&T has constructed in San Francisco (see January 2003). Salon’s Kim Zetter will later write that the Bridgeton facility “had the earmarks of a National Security Agency operation,” including a sophisticated “mantrap” entrance using retinal and fingerprint scanners. Sometime in early 2003, AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009) discusses the Bridgeton facility with a senior AT&T manager, whom he will only identify as “Morgan.” The manager tells Klein that he considers the Bridgeton facility “creepy,” very secretive and with access restricted to only a few personnel. Morgan tells Klein that the secure room at Bridgeton features a logo on the door, which Klein will describe as “the eye-on-the-pyramid logo which is on the back of the dollar bill—and that got my attention because I knew that was for awhile the logo of the Total Awareness Program” (TIA-see Mid-January 2002, March 2002 and November 9, 2002). Klein notes that the logo “became such a laughingstock that they [the US government] withdrew it.” However, neither Klein nor Morgan find the NSA secure room at Bridgeton amusing. In June 2006, two AT&T workers will tell Zetter that the 100 or so employees who work in the room are “monitoring network traffic” for “a government agency,” later determined to be the NSA. Only government officials or AT&T employees with top-secret security clearance are admitted to the room, which is secured with a biometric “mantrap” or highly sophisticated double door, secured with retinal and fingerprint scanners. The few AT&T employees allowed into the room have undergone exhaustive security clearance procedures. “It was very hush-hush,” one of the AT&T workers will recall. “We were told there was going to be some government personnel working in that room. We were told: ‘Do not try to speak to them. Do not hamper their work. Do not impede anything that they’re doing.’” (Neither of Zetter’s sources is Klein, who by the time Zetter’s article is published in 2006, will have made his concerns about the NSA and AT&T public.) The Bridgeton facility is the central “command center” for AT&T’s management of all routers and circuits carrying domestic and international Internet traffic. Hence, it is the ideal location for conducting surveillance or collecting data. AT&T controls about a third of all bandwidth carrying Internet traffic to and from homes and businesses throughout the US. The two employees, who both will leave AT&T to work with other telecommunications firms, will say they cannot be sure what kinds of activities actually take place within the secret room. The allegations follow those made by Klein, who after his retirement (see May 2004) will submit an affidavit stating his knowledge of other, similar facilities in San Francisco and other West Coast switching centers, whose construction and operations were overseen by the NSA (see January 16, 2004 and January 2003); the two AT&T employees say that the orders for the San Francisco facility came from Bridgeton. NSA expert Matthew Aid will say of the Bridgeton facility, “I’m not a betting man, but if I had to plunk $100 down, I’d say it’s safe that it’s NSA.” Aid will say the Bridgeton facility is most likely part of “what is obviously a much larger operation, or series of interrelated operations” combining foreign intelligence gathering with domestic eavesdropping and data collection. Former high-level NSA intelligence officer Russell Tice will say bluntly: “You’re talking about a backbone for computer communications, and that’s NSA.… Whatever is happening there with the security you’re talking about is a whole lot more closely held than what’s going on with the Klein case.” The kind of vetting that the Bridgeton AT&T employees underwent points to the NSA, both Aid and Tice will say; one of the two AT&T employees who will reveal the existence of the Bridgeton facility will add, “Although they work for AT&T, they’re actually doing a job for the government.” Aid will add that, while it is possible that the Bridgeton facility is actually a center for legal FBI operations, it is unlikely due to the stringent security safeguards in place: “The FBI, which is probably the least technical agency in the US government, doesn’t use mantraps. But virtually every area of the NSA’s buildings that contain sensitive operations require you to go through a mantrap with retinal and fingerprint scanners. All of the sensitive offices in NSA buildings have them.” The American Civil Liberties Union’s Jameel Jaffer will add that when the FBI wants information from a telecom such as AT&T, it would merely show up at the firm with a warrant and have a wiretap placed. And both the NSA and FBI can legally, with warrants, tap into communications data using existing technological infrastructure, without the need for such sophisticated surveillance and data-mining facilities as the ones in Bridgeton and San Francisco. Both AT&T and the NSA will refuse to comment on the facilities in Bridgeton, citing national security concerns. [Salon, 6/21/2006; Klein, 2009, pp. 28-30]

Entity Tags: Terrorist Surveillance Program, National Security Agency, Russell Tice, Matthew Aid, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Kim Zetter, Mark Klein, AT&T, Jameel Jaffer, “Morgan” (senior AT&T manager), American Civil Liberties Union

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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