Report: AT&T Helped U.S. Spy on Internet Traffic for Decades

Photo (cc) by balleyne

A partnership between the National Security Agency and AT&T helped the U.S. government spy on Internet traffic for decades, according to documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

Snowden is the former NSA contractor who first leaked documents in 2013 to reveal how the federal agency spies on citizens’ telecommunications.

The New York Times and the nonprofit news organization ProPublica jointly reviewed the newly disclosed documents and published a report based on their contents this weekend.

Those documents refer to telecom companies by code names rather than their real names, but the NYT and ProPublica report that their analysis of the records “reveals a constellation of evidence that points to AT&T” as the NSA’s partner for a program that dates back to 1985.

The news outlets also report that several former intelligence officials confirmed their finding.

While it has been known that telecom companies cooperate with the NSA, the two news outlets report that the federal agency’s relationship with AT&T stands out.

The news outlets describe it as an “extraordinary, decades-long partnership” that is “unique and especially productive,” enabling the NSA “to spy on vast quantities of Internet traffic passing through the United States”:

AT&T’s cooperation has involved a broad range of classified activities, according to the documents, which date from 2003 to 2013. AT&T has given the NSA access, through several methods covered under different legal rules, to billions of emails as they have flowed across its domestic networks. …

The NSA’s top-secret budget in 2013 for the AT&T partnership was more than twice that of the next-largest such program, according to the documents. The company installed surveillance equipment in at least 17 of its Internet hubs on American soil, far more than its similarly sized competitor, Verizon.

In addition to American citizens, AT&T allegedly helped the NSA spy on the United Nations, an AT&T customer. The company provided technical assistance in carrying out a secret court order permitting the wiretapping of all Internet communications at the U.N. headquarters, the NYT and ProPublica report.

It’s unclear whether the relationship between the NSA and AT&T has continued into the present in the same capacity.

The NSA and AT&T declined to comment on the news. The NYT and ProPublica report that an AT&T spokesman said, “We don’t comment on matters of national security.”

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