05/25/2006 07:17 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Inside This Door, Your Government Violated Your Rights


This is a picture of a door leading to a room at 611 Folsom Street in San Francisco.

Inside that room, AT&T has been helping the U.S. Government spy on you by mapping your long-distance calls. Your calls, both domestic and overseas.

Whether any of these calls were of Leonid from the Russian mob calling Ahmed the jihadist to tell him the "vials of death" are ready, and to meet him in Golden Gate Park tonight for the handoff, I doubt it.

More like the workaday calls between salesperson and prospect, two loyal lovers, coffee klatch pals, daughter and mother.

But mapped they were, and are.

Advocates for this program say the way this worked, and works, is that, if one of the many millions of phone numbers monitored by means of the technology inside that door shows numerous calls from a nation known to be a haven for terrorists, and that the receiving number made a whole series of phone calls just after the call from that nation, then the red flag goes up.

What you have to understand, though, is the same technology could be used for other purposes than foiling terrorist plots. What happens, say, when - not if, but when Roe is overturned, a law passes that forbids the facilitation of travel services to women in states where abortion is outlawed to a state where it is still legal? A woman in South Dakota whose phone records showed she called a Planned Parenthood clinic in Minnesota, and then followed that call with a local call to her travel agent...and that travel agent could be nabbed.

Scary? Well, the technical means to do this type of "data mining" is here.

We know this due to the courage of now retired AT&T technician Daniel Klein, who gave sealed documentation of this eavesdropping to Wired Magazine. Klein is nothing less than a Daniel Ellsburg for our time.

Wired published the document earlier this week. I did as well, on my ZDNet blog, expanding on it with illustrations.

It's been causing such a stir, that I felt I would like to share it with you here.

Following is a more-or-less straightforward recitation of my ZDNet post, minus some of the overly technical diagrams I reproduced in my post.

Wired Magazine has obtained, and has posted, the complete text of a document that attempts to chronicle how AT&T equipped a "secret room" at 611 Folsom Street in San Francisco to track domestic and international phone calls made by American citizens and others.

That's the entrance to the secret room at the top of this post.

The document, entitled AT&T's Implementation of NSA Spying on American Citizens, was prepared by now-retired AT&T communications technician Mark Klein and is posted here.

I am going to highlight and illustrate key components of Klein's paper here. But first, it would be useful to get a sense of why Klein felt necessary to release this information.

"I wrote the following document in 2004 when it became clear to me that AT&T, at the behest of the National Security Agency, had illegally installed secret computer gear designed to spy on internet traffic. At the time I thought this was an outgrowth of the notorious 'Total Information Awareness' program which was attacked by defenders of civil liberties," Klein writes.

"But now it's been revealed by the New York Times that the spying program is vastly bigger and was directly authorized by President Bush, as he himself has now admitted, in flagrant violation of specific statutes and Constitutional protections for civil liberties," he adds. "I am presenting this information to facilitate the dismantling of this dangerous Orwellian project."

Now, let us delve into this document, and read what Klein has to say.

Klein says:

The essential hardware elements of a TIA-type spy program are being surreptitiously slipped into "real world"telecommunications offices. 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 workforce 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.

Plans for the "secret room" were fully drawn up by December 2002, curiously only four months after DARPA started awarding contracts for TIA. One 60-page document, identified as coming from "AT&T Labs Connectivity & Net Services" and authored by the labs' consultant Mathew F. Casamassima, is titled "Study Group 3, LGX/Splitter Wiring, San Francisco and dated 12/10/02. (See sample pdf 1-4.)

I'll describe these samples in a bit. But I should point out that next, Klein describes the complexity of what was undertaken, and how those complexities were solved.

This document addresses the special problem of trying to spy on fiber optic circuits. Unlike copper wire circuits which emit electromagnetic fields that can be tapped into without disturbing the circuits, fiber optic circuits do not "leak" their light signals. In order to monitor such communications, one has to physically cut into the fiber somehow and divert a portion of the light signal to see the information.

This problem is solved with "splitters" which literally split off a percentage of the light signal so it can be examined. This is the purpose of the special cabinet referred to above: circuits are connected into it, the light signal is split into two signals, one of which is diverted to the "secret room." The cabinet is totally unnecessary for the circuit to perform- in fact it introduces problems since the signal level is reduced by the splitter--its only purpose is to enable a third party to examine the data flowing between sender and recipient on the Internet.

In the next passage, Klein describes the splitting of the light signal, and provides a diagram that illustrates this complex process.

Klein continues:

The above-referenced document includes a diagram showing the splitting of the light signal, a portion of which is diverted to "SG3 Secure Room," i.e., the so-called "Study Group" spy room. Another page headlined "Cabinet Naming, lists not only the "splitter" cabinet but also the equipment installed in the "SG3" room, including various Sun devices, and Juniper M40e and M160 "backbone" routers.

Next we go to what Klein apportions as PDF file 4. This file, essentially, lists much of the key hardware being used to perform this work, as well as connections.

Klein notes:

Pdf file 4 shows shows one of many tables detailing the connections between the "splitter" cabinet on the 7th floor (location 070177.04) and a cabinet in the "secret room" on the 6th floor (location 060903.01).

Finally, in terms of tracked Internet traffic, Klein alludes to Technology from a company called Naurus, who have, in press releases explained Semantic Traffic Analysis (STA) technology, that "captures comprehensive customer usagedata...and transforms it into actionable information...[it] is the only technology that provides complete visibility for all Internet applications.

Klein again:

To implement this scheme, WorldNet's highspeed data circuits already in service had to be re-routed to go through the special "splitter" cabinet. This was addressed in another document of 44 pages from AT&T Labs, titled "SIMS, Splitter Cut-In and Test Procedure," dated 01/13/03. "SIMS" is an unexplained reference to the secret room.

So, readers, what do you make of all this? Necessary steps to protect us against terrorism, infringement on our civil liberties- or some of both?