I pass this windowless, metal-clad behemoth of a building every day. It’s practically across the street from my office downtown. It’s an AT&T; building, but I never understood why it would have absolutely no windows. I always wondered what was inside.
A whistleblower who used to be a technician working for AT&T; in this building revealed that it contains a room which is only accessible to National Security Agency (NSA) personnel, into which all communications traffic — internet and telephone — flows and is copied.
“My job was to connect circuits into the splitter device which was hard-wired to the secret room,” said whistleblower Mark Klein. “And effectively, the splitter copied the entire data stream of those internet cables into the secret room — and we’re talking about phone conversations, email web browsing, everything that goes across the internet.”
In January 2006 the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a class-action lawsuit against AT&T;, accusing the telecom giant of violating the law and the privacy of its customers by collaborating with the NSA in a massive, illegal program to wiretap and data-mine Americans’ communications.
The traffic routed through these secret rooms is not limited to AT&T; customers, and AT&T; is not the only telecom company complicit in the government’s conspiracy to surveil the entirety of American civil communications. The EFF has filed briefs seeking information on similar locked rooms in facilities owned by Verizon, MCI, and others.
Coverage of Room 641A:
Washington Post: A Story of Surveillance: Former Technician ‘Turning In’ AT&T; Over NSA Program
PBS’s Frontline: Spying on the Home Front
Wired interview with Mark Klein: Spying in the Death Star: The AT&T; Whistle-Blower Tells His Story
Wired: AT&T; Whistle-Blower’s Evidence
Electronic Frontier Foundation: Hepting v. AT&T;
Wikipedia: Room 641A