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A Story of Surveillance
"That's when my antennas started to go up," he said. He knew that the NSA was supposed to work on overseas signals intelligence.
The job entailed building a "secret room" in an AT&T office 10 blocks away, he said. By coincidence, in October 2003, Klein was transferred to that office and assigned to the Internet room. He asked a technician there about the secret room on the 6th floor, and the technician told him it was connected to the Internet room a floor above. The technician, who was about to retire, handed him some 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 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 in Northern Virginia 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."
Qwest has not been sued because of media reports last year that said the company declined to participate in an NSA program to build a database of domestic phone-call records out of concern about its legality. What the documents show, Klein contends, is that the NSA apparently was collecting several carriers' communications, probably without their consent.
Another document showed that the NSA installed in the room a semantic traffic analyzer made by Narus, which Klein said indicated that the NSA was doing content analysis.
Steve Bannerman, Narus's marketing vice president, said in an interview that the NarusInsight system is "the world's most powerful Internet traffic processing engine." He said it is used to detect worms, as well as to capture information to help authorities stop criminal activity. He said it can track a communication's origin and destination, as well as its content. He declined to comment on AT&T's use of the system.
Klein said he decided to go public after President Bush defended the NSA's surveillance program as limited to collecting phone calls between suspected terrorists overseas and people in the United States. Klein said the documents show that the scope was much broader.
Klein was last in Washington in 1969, to take part in an antiwar protest. Now, he said with a chuckle, he's here in a gray suit as a lobbyist.
Staff researcher Richard Drezen contributed to this story.