AT&T in 2003 reportedly led the way on a new collection capability that the National Security Agency said amounted to a “’live’ presence on the global net” and would forward 400 billion Internet metadata records in one of its first months of operation.
The New York Times reported the Fairview program was forwarding more than 1 million emails per day to the agency’s headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. Meanwhile, the Stormbrew program, linked to Verizon and the former MCI company, was still gearing up to use the new technology, which appeared to process foreign-to-foreign traffic.
According to an internal agency newsletter cited by the newspaper, AT&T began handing over 1.1 billion domestic cellphone calling records a day to the NSA in 2011, after “a push to get this flow operational prior to the 10th anniversary of 9/11.” Intelligence officials told reporters in the past that the effort consisted mostly of landline phone records, the Times reported.
The agency spent more than $188 billion on the Fairview program, twice the amount spent on Stormbew, the newspaper reported.
Such details from the decades-long partnership between the government and AT&T emerged from NSA documents provided by former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden, the Times reported in a story posted Saturday on its website. The Times and ProPublica jointly reviewed the documents, which date from 2003 to 2013.
While its known that American telecommunications companies worked closely with the NSA, the documents show that the government’s relationship with AT&T has been considered unique and productive, according to the newspaper. One document described it as "highly collaborative," while another lauded the company's "extreme willingness to help," the newspaper reported.
The documents show the telecom giant’s cooperation has involved a broad range of classified activities, according to the Times. AT&T has given the NSA access, through several methods covered under different legal rules, to billions of emails as they flowed across various domestic networks.
AT&T has also reportedly provided technical assistance in carrying out a secret court order permitting the wiretapping of all Internet communications at U.N. headquarters, which is a customer of the phone company. While NSA spying on U.N. diplomats had been previously reported, the newspaper said Saturday that neither the court order nor AT&T's involvement had been disclosed.
The documents also reveal that AT&T installed surveillance equipment in at least 17 of its Internet hubs on American soil, the Times reported, far more than similarly sized competitor Verizon. AT&T engineers were the first to try out new surveillance technologies invented by the NSA, the newspaper reported.
The NSA, AT&T and Verizon declined to discuss the findings from the files, according to the Times. It is not clear if the programs still operate in the same way today, the newspaper reported.
One of the documents provided by Snowden reminds NSA officials to be polite when visiting AT&T facilities, the Times reported, and notes, "This is a partnership, not a contractual relationship."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.