NYT: AT&T Is NSA’s Biggest Partner in Spying on American Communications

For years, security-minded politicians have been saying that U.S. spy agencies and the private sector need to have a better working relationship to stop terrorism. But if the arm-in-arm relationship between communications giant AT&T and the National Security Agency is any indication, that relationship is already in full bloom. Worse, the government has been paying AT&T millions to supply the info.

According to newly uncovered documents reported on by the New York Times, AT&T and Verizon were not only supplying over a billion domestic cell phone records each and every day in 2011, but the U.S. government was paying them both for access to those logs. So, through their taxes, the American people were essentially paying to have the government spy on them.

According to the Associated Press, AT&T charges the federal government $325 for every wiretap and a $10 per day fee to maintain it. The other telecom companies have similar fees. As a result, the AP found that AT&T made $24 million from these fees while Verizon made up to $5 million on the charges. The other telecom companies also reaped these windfalls, though not to the same degree as the two leaders.

The Times‘s story notes that the relationship between the government and telecom giant AT&T was especially deep, having been in place since 1985 under a program called “Fairview.” As the paper put it, “One document described it as ‘highly collaborative,’ while another lauded the company’s ‘extreme willingness to help.'”

“AT&T has given the N.S.A. access, through several methods covered under different legal rules, to billions of emails as they have flowed across its domestic networks,” the Times reported on Saturday. “It provided technical assistance in carrying out a secret court order permitting the wiretapping of all Internet communications at the United Nations headquarters, a customer of AT&T.”

In 2011, the documents claim that AT&T alone handed over 1.1 billion domestic cellphone calling records a day to the NSA.

Another program revealed by the documents is codenamed “Stormbrew” and is linked to Verizon and MCI, a company Verizon bought out in 2006.

The documents detailing this intensive cooperation were released by NSA leaker Edward Snowden and reviewed by NYT as well as ProPublica, a New York-based, privately-funded journalism venture.

Critics of the release of the documents note that this is exactly the information that the federal government has been in court fighting to keep secret.

A spokesman for AT&T would not substantiate any of the Times’s speculation on the story, saying, “We do not voluntarily provide information to any investigating authorities other than if a person’s life is in danger and time is of the essence.”

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston, or email the author at igcolonel@hotmail.com.


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