Mark Klein, the former AT&T technician and whistleblower who helped kick off the AT&T/NSA eavesdropping scandal, clarified further details regarding what he witnessed while connecting a secret NSA eavesdropping facility: secure room 641A in AT&T’s San Francisco switching center, presumably commissioned by the NSA, received copies of all the traffic its splitters were connected to, including both international and domestic e-mails, web traffic, and phone calls, both from AT&T’s customers as well as other providers.
Previous statements by the government, AT&T and President Bush indicated that the only affected communications are communications relevant to national security, like those of suspected terrorists and suspicious foreign nationals. According to Klein, however, the technology used to connect the secure room was far more democratic, consisting of simple, dumb splitters incapable of any kind of contextual filtering: essentially, room 641A received “a duplicate of every fiber-optic signal routed through [AT&T’s] facilities.”
Klein, appearing on MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann show, told viewers about his personal association with secure room 641A. “When I was a technician, I had the engineering/wiring documents, which told me how the splitter was wired to the secret room … I had to know [about those things] in order to do my job,” he said, “so I know that whatever went across those cables was copied; the entire datastream was copied into the secret room.”
Referring to the equipment itself, Klein states, “the splitter device has no selective capability, it just copies everything. We’re talking about domestic traffic, as well as international traffic, and that’s what got me upset to begin with.”
It’s important to note that what actually went on inside secure room 641A — what was actually being done with the data that it was fed — has yet to be discovered. However, the room contained several racks of equipment fine-tuned for data mining, including a Narus STA 6400, a device designed specifically for analyzing Internet communications “at very high speeds.”
Forged amongst the dust settled after 9/11, President Bush signed an order allowing U.S. intelligence agencies to monitor international phone calls and e-mail messages of thousands of people inside the United States without a warrant. This program was uncovered in December 2005, when the New York Times printed an article that would eventually push Klein to disclose his experiences, and sign an affidavit testifying in a January 2006 class action lawsuit filed by the EFF.
According to Klein, an NSA agent appeared at AT&T’s San Francisco switching center, interviewing management-level technicians for a “special job.” Shortly afterwords, Klein observed the construction of secure room 641A, which was housed adjacent to AT&T’s international- and long-distance call-routing #4ESS equipment. Eventually, said Klien, he ended up tasked with patching in optical splitters from the secret room and into AT&T’s production, backbone switching equipment.
More importantly, says Klein, internal documentation suggests similar equipment was installed at facilities in Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles and San Diego.
Both the U.S. government and AT&T have tried adamantly to kill the class action suit, which is still pending. AT&T claims that it was following government orders and is therefore immune to legal action. The government has made multiple attempts at invoking the State Secrets Privilege, but so far with little success.