A Story of Surveillance
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
His first inkling that something was amiss came in summer 2002 when he opened the door to admit a visitor from the National Security Agency to an office of AT&T in San Francisco.
"What the heck is the NSA doing here?" Mark Klein, a former AT&T technician, said he asked himself.
A year or so later, he stumbled upon documents that, he said, nearly caused him to fall out of his chair. The documents, he said, show that the NSA gained access to massive amounts of e-mail and search and other Internet records of more than a dozen global and regional telecommunications providers. AT&T allowed the agency to hook into its network at a facility in San Francisco and, according to Klein, many of the other telecom companies probably knew nothing about it.
Klein is in Washington this week to share his story in the hope that it will persuade lawmakers not to grant legal immunity to telecommunications firms that helped the government in its anti-terrorism efforts.
The plain-spoken, bespectacled Klein, 62, said he may be the only person in the country in a position to discuss firsthand knowledge of an important aspect of the Bush administration's domestic surveillance program. He is retired, so he isn't worried about losing his job. He did not have security clearance, and the documents in his possession were not classified, he said. He has no qualms about "turning in," as he put it, the company where he worked for 22 years until he retired in 2004.
"If they've done something massively illegal and unconstitutional -- well, they should suffer the consequences," Klein said. "It's not my place to feel bad for them. They made their bed, they have to lie in it. The ones who did [anything wrong], you can be sure, are high up in the company. Not the average Joes, who I enjoyed working with."
In an interview yesterday, he alleged that the NSA set up a system that vacuumed up Internet and phone-call data from ordinary Americans with the cooperation of AT&T . 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 believes that the NSA was analyzing the records for usage patterns as well as for content.
He said the NSA built a special room to receive data streamed through an AT&T Internet room containing "peering links," or major connections to other telecom providers. The largest of the links delivered 2.5 gigabits of data -- the equivalent of one-quarter of the Encyclopedia Britannica's text -- per second, said Klein, whose documents and eyewitness account form the basis of one of the first lawsuits filed against the telecom giants after the government's warrantless-surveillance program was reported in the New York Times in December 2005.
Claudia Jones, an AT&T spokeswoman, said she had no comment on Klein's allegations. "AT&T is fully committed to protecting our customers' privacy. We do not comment on matters of national security," she said.
The NSA and the White House also declined comment on Klein's allegations.
Klein is urging Congress not to block Hepting v. AT&T, a class-action suit pending in federal court in San Francisco, as well as 37 other lawsuits charging carriers with illegally collaborating with the NSA. He was accompanied yesterday by lawyers for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed Hepting v. AT&T in 2006. Together, they are urging key U.S. senators to oppose a pending White House-endorsed immunity provision that would effectively wipe out the lawsuits. The Judiciary Committee is expected to take up the measure Thursday.
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 job whose details were secret.