The Scientific Activist (Archives)


May 23, 2006

Wired Magazine Takes On "The Man"

On Monday, Wired Magazine released documents detailing AT&T's involvement in the National Security Agency's recent warrantless domestic surveillance scandal. The documents give whistle-blower Mark Klein's description of the technical aspects of how the questionable wiretapping operation was carried out. With a lawsuit currently pending against AT&T, the documents remain sealed, but Wired obained the documents from an anonymous source:
In 2003 AT&T built "secret rooms" hidden deep in the bowels of its central offices in various cities, housing computer gear for a government spy operation which taps into the company's popular WorldNet service and the entire internet. These installations enable the government to look at every individual message on the internet and analyze exactly what people are doing. Documents showing the hardwire installation in San Francisco suggest that there are similar locations being installed in numerous other cities.

The physical arrangement, the timing of its construction, the government-imposed secrecy surrounding it and other factors all strongly suggest that its origins are rooted in the Defense Department's Total Information Awareness (TIA) program which brought forth vigorous protests from defenders of constitutionally protected civil liberties [in 2003]....

...In San Francisco the "secret room" is Room 641A at 611 Folsom Street, the site of a large SBC phone building, three floors of which are occupied by AT&T. High-speed fiber-optic circuits come in on the 8th floor and run down to the 7th floor where they connect to routers for AT&T's WorldNet service, part of the latter's vital "Common Backbone." In order to snoop on these circuits, a special cabinet was installed and cabled to the "secret room" on the 6th floor to monitor the information going through the circuits. (The location code of the cabinet is 070177.04, which denotes the 7th floor, aisle 177 and bay 04.) The "secret room" itself is roughly 24-by-48 feet, containing perhaps a dozen cabinets including such equipment as Sun servers and two Juniper routers, plus an industrial-size air conditioner.

The normal work force of unionized technicians in the office are forbidden to enter the "secret room," which has a special combination lock on the main door. The telltale sign of an illicit government spy operation is the fact that
only people with security clearance from the National Security Agency can enter this room. In practice this has meant that only one management-level technician works in there. Ironically, the one who set up the room was laid off in late 2003 in one of the company's endless "downsizings," but he was quickly replaced by another.

In a separate article, Wired gives its rationale for publishing the documents:
Before publishing these documents we showed them to independent security experts, who agreed they pose no significant danger to AT&T. For example, they do not reveal information that hackers might use to easily attack the company's systems.

The court's gag order is very specific in barring only the EFF, its representatives and its technical experts from discussing and disseminating this information. The court explicitly rejected AT&T's motion to include Klein in the gag order and declined AT&T's request to force the EFF to return the documents.

Given the current political and legal climate, it's not surprising that Wired is being so explicit here. Just last Sunday, for example, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced that journalists could be prosecuted for releasing classified information.

Given that, I don't think I could end this post any better than Mark Klein ended his statement:
This is the infrastructure for an Orwellian police state. It must be shut down!


  • As long as a culture of fear can be maintained, there will be those who blindly follow and willingly give up their freedoms in exchange for a false security blanket.

    By Anonymous BWJones, at Tue May 23, 04:46:00 AM  

  • As a journalist and a libertarian, I'm surprised I'm not outraged at the NSA wiretapping scandal, but I'm not. Not all of those who aren't foaming at the mouth "blindly" accept this.
    If someone has nothing to hide, he or she will pass under the radar unnoticed. It should result in no chilling effect of any speech other than those who pose a threat to our national security.

    By Anonymous Julie, at Fri May 26, 03:19:00 PM  

  • I think that’s the kind of lackadaisical attitude that can lead to much greater problems down the line. Besides, if this was a legitimate effort, why was it done in such an unscrupulous way?

    By Blogger Nick Anthis, at Fri May 26, 06:39:00 PM  

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