THIS is the big secret?

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Wired has published Mark Klein's statement about AT&T's wiretapping plan together with some supporting documents. I've reviewed the material and I must say, I'm underwhelmed. Basically, the evidence Mr. Klein has presented indicates that
  1. AT&T has secure rooms in one or more of their data centers.
  2. These rooms are equipped with fiber taps and a bunch of fairly high-end networking equipment that's usable for traffic sniffing.
  3. The taps seem to be on a bunch of circuits for major carriers.
Mr. Klein's asserts that this stuff is linked to the NSA but the papers don't show that, and this stuff could easily have a legitimate use. After all, AT&T is a big carrier and companies like Narus (the manufacturer of the traffic analysis gear that Klein cites as evidence that this is being used for surveillance) sells lots of product. It seems unlikely that everyone with a Narus is diverting traffic to the NSA.

Mr. Klein's statement contains a bunch of hand-waving about NSA and DARPA's TIA program. For instance:

Plans for the "secret room" were fully drawn up by December 2002, curiously only four months after Darpa started awarding contracts for TIA.

This doesn't seem very convincing. If it were four months before, then the implication would be that they had the plans ready for submission to DARPA. It's not like it was the next day.

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.

Well, the fact that it's locked up is a bit suspicious, on the other hand I could imagine if I had this kind of sniffing apparatus in place I might lock it up. The bit about people with security clearance from NSA doesn't impress me much. First, it's not documented anywhere in the paperwork we have, so we just have Mr. Klein's word on it. Second, "security clearance" isn't exactly specific. Lots of people have some kind of clearance: a program like this would most likely require a very high clearance level, like TS-SCI. Without that detail, one is left wondering exactly what the situation is.

Going through the document in more detail:

P. 1-5 are Mr. Klein's statement.
P. 6-9 are a description of the equipment in the secret room.
P. 11-13 are instructions for how to splice the fibers and which circuits to tap.
P. 14 is pictures of the door to the room.
P. 15-22 is a brochure from a conference Narus sponsored which has sessions on tapping networks.
P. 23 is an article on Narus.
P. 24-29 is a Narus press release.

None of this is very damning.

Note that I'm not saying that AT&T wasn't diverting Internet traffic to the NSA. That's certainly possible, and maybe there's more convincing evidence in the material still under seal. But from what we've seen so far isn't exactly a slam dunk.

4 Comments

Well, I'll grant you that it remains to be seen whether this particular charge turns out to be true... However a rational person must conclude that the NSA has, in fact, been secretly funded and authorized to turn on TIA domestically. Now I don't particularly care about domestic wiretapping, but I am deeply disturbed that our government won't admit what they're doing and that representatives of this administration seem to have no qualms about lying under oath. And, by the way, you do realize that all this domestic surveilance, whatever it was, was ongoing during the entire last presidential election cycle, right? I really find that profoundly disturbing.

Commenting not on what ekr says, but on a tangential item that amused me: You know you're too involved in science when you read "unionized" as meaning "not ionized".

On your point about clearances, read your quote again: only people with security clearance from the National Security Agency can enter this room. Having any sort of government-clearance requirement for entrance to a room used for the kinds of traffic analysis for which Narus usually sells their boxes is past odd. Having it be "from the National Security Agency" is past past odd. There are types of clearances that are essentially "portable" among DoD projects or agencies, but a clearance is fundamentaly issued by the head of a specific agency or department. If these were issued by the NSA, it does mean something.


As you say, this is only his assertion, and he may be asserting something without realizing quite what it means. But this is not the only piece of evidence that the TIA moved homes to the NSA when congress shot it down. It fits the rest of the pieces well, even if it is not the keystone to the arch.

Had a job once at a casino which required a background check. They called it an "FBI background check" more times than I can remember. You really think the FBI did the background check so I could bartend at this casino? Me either, especially considering the ChoicePoint employment inquiry that later showed up on my credit report. But whatever, I'm sure half the people working there really do believe, and that's what matters, right?

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