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NSA linked with AT&T, group says

Associated Press/David Kravets | April 14 2006

SAN FRANCISCO — AT&T and an Internet advocacy group are waging a privacy battle in federal court that could expose the reach of the Bush administration's secretive domestic eavesdropping program.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said it obtained documents from a former AT&T technician showing that the National Security Agency is capable of monitoring all communications on AT&T's network.

"It appears the NSA is capable of conducting what amounts to vacuum-cleaner surveillance of all the data crossing the Internet, whether that be people's e-mail, Web surfing or any other data," whistle-blower Mark Klein, who worked for the company for 22 years, said in a statement released by his lawyers.

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker is considering whether to unseal documents that Klein provided and AT&T wants kept secret. The EFF filed the documents under seal as a courtesy to the phone company, but is seeking to unseal them.

The EFF lawsuit seeks to stop the surveillance program that started shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks. The suit is based in large part on the Klein documents, which detail secret spying rooms and electronic-surveillance equipment in AT&T facilities.

The suit claims AT&T not only provided direct access to its network that carries voice and data but also to its massive databases of stored telephone and Internet records that are updated constantly.

AT&T violated U.S. law and the privacy of its customers as part of the "massive and illegal program to wiretap and data-mine Americans' communications" without warrants, the EFF alleged.

Klein said the NSA built a secret room at the company's San Francisco central office in 2003, adjacent to a "switch room where the public's phone calls are routed." One of the documents under seal, Klein said, shows that a device was installed with the "ability to sift through large amounts of data looking for preprogrammed targets."

Other so-called secret rooms were constructed at AT&T sites in Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles and San Diego, the statement said.

Other documents under seal show that fiber-optic cables from the secret room tapped into WorldNet Internet subscribers and instructed technicians how to connect cables to the secret room, Klein said. He said he was required to connect circuits that fed information to the secret room.

"Any discussion about actual or alleged operational issues would be irresponsible as it would give our adversaries insight that would enable them to adjust and potentially inflict harm to the U.S.," NSA spokesman Don Weber said.

Michael Balmoris, an AT&T spokesman, said the company "follows all laws with respect to assistance offered to government agencies." He declined further elaboration, saying AT&T is "not in a position to comment on matters of national security or litigation."

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