In an interview this week, he alleged that the NSA set up a system that vacuumed up Internet and phone-call data from ordinary Americans with the help of AT&T and without obtaining a court order. Contrary to the government’s depiction of its surveillance program as aimed at overseas terrorists, Klein said, much of the data sent through AT&T to the NSA was purely domestic. Klein said he thinks the NSA was analyzing the records for usage patterns and for content.
He said the NSA built a special room in San Francisco to receive data streamed through an AT&T Internet room containing “peering links,” or major connections to other telecom providers. Other so-called secret rooms reportedly were constructed at AT&T sites in Seattle, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Jose, Calif.
In summer 2002, Klein was working in an office responsible for Internet equipment when an NSA representative arrived to interview a management-level technician for a special, secret job.
The job entailed building a “secret room” in another AT&T office 10 blocks away, he said. By coincidence, in October 2003, Klein was transferred to that office. He asked a technician about the secret room on the sixth floor, and the technician told him it was connected to the Internet room a floor above. The technician handed him wiring diagrams.
“That was my ‘aha’ moment,” Klein said. “They’re sending the entire Internet to the secret room.”
The diagram showed splitters glass prisms that split signals from each network into two identical copies. One copy fed into the secret room. The other proceeded to its destination, he said.
“This splitter was sweeping up everything, vacuum-cleaner-style,” he said. “The NSA is getting everything. These are major pipes that carry not just AT&T’s customers but everybody’s.”
One of Klein’s documents listed links to 16 entities, including Global Crossing, a large provider of voice and data services in the United States and abroad; UUNet, a large Internet provider now owned by Verizon; Level 3 Communications, which provides local, long-distance and data transmission in the United States and overseas; and more familiar names, such as Sprint and Qwest. It also included data exchanges MAE-West and PAIX, or Palo Alto Internet Exchange, facilities where telecom carriers hand off Internet traffic to each other.
“I flipped out,” he said. “They’re copying the whole Internet. There’s no selection going on here. Maybe they select out later, but at the point of handoff to the government, they get everything.”