23 May 2006

Secret Rooms

Former AT&T technician Mark Klein thought something
smelled fishy more than two years ago. Here are
excerpts from a statement he wrote in January 2004:

In 2003 AT&T built "secret rooms" hidden
deep in the bowels of its central offices in
various cities, housing computer gear for a
government spy operation which taps into the
company's popular WorldNet service and the
entire internet. These installations enable the
government to look at every individual
message on the internet and analyze exactly
what people are doing. Documents showing the
hardwire installation in San Francisco suggest
that there are similar locations being installed
in numerous other cities.

* * *

In San Francisco the "secret room" is Room
641A at 611 Folsom Street, the site of a large
SBC phone building, three floors of which are
occupied by AT&T. High-speed fiber-optic
circuits come in on the 8th floor and run down
to the 7th floor where they connect to routers
for AT&T's WorldNet service, part of the
latter's vital "Common Backbone." In order to
snoop on these circuits, a special cabinet was
installed and cabled to the "secret room" on
the 6th floor to monitor the information going
through the circuits. (The location code of the
cabinet is 070177.04, which denotes the 7th
floor, aisle 177 and bay 04.) The "secret
room" itself is roughly 24-by-48 feet,
containing perhaps a dozen cabinets including
such equipment as Sun servers and two
Juniper routers, plus an industrial-size air

The normal work force of unionized technicians
in the office are forbidden to enter the "secret
room," which has a special combination lock on
the main door. The telltale sign of an illicit
government spy operation is the fact that only
people with security clearance from the
National Security Agency can enter this room.
In practice this has meant that only one
management-level technician works in there.
Ironically, the one who set up the room was
laid off in late 2003 in one of the company's
endless "downsizings," but he was quickly
replaced by another.

This document and others related to the class-action
against AT&T are sealed in a San Francisco
federal court. But lucky for us, Wired has published
them, here.