Edward Snowden is not the first person to blow the whistle on what the NSA is doing. Mark Klein was an AT&T technician for 22 years. He gradually learned the NSA had tapped into the fiber optic network which makes up the backbone of the internet in locations around the country.
This ABC Nightline report from 2007 sums up what Klein revealed:
What this report does not cover in detail is how Klein gradually learned, in the course of doing his job, that there were similar NSA installed splitters placed in other locations around the country. For more on that check out this PBS Frontline interview with Klein.
Of course President Bush claimed at the time that the purpose of this surveillance was the interception of overseas calls. However, the technology is not limited to that except, apparently, by software. The NY Times showed Klein’s information to several experts. They noted that the intercepts appeared to have been set up to capture foreign information, however “it would be a simple
technical matter to reprogram the equipment to intercept purely domestic
So the NSA has direct access to everything passing through major internet hubs around the country but ostensibly restricted themselves from peeking at anything not connected to specific foreign terrorism targets. Maybe this is true but who would be able to tell us if it was not?