The NSA has been helped by AT&T for decades in spying on huge quantities of internet traffic new-disclosed documents reveal.
The astonishing relationship between the National Security Agency and the telecoms company goes far beyond any sort of arrangement or co-operation that came from other firms.
Evidence published by the New York Times shows that the NSA had arrangements in place with AT&T and Verizon, but the partnership with AT&T proved particularly lucrative. The communications giant added surveillance equipment to at least 17 of its web centers and was used as a testing ground for new spying technologies and techniques. All this is revealed in a new batch of documents provided by Edward Snowden.
The documents have been jointly viewed and analysed by the New York Times and ProPublic, and show that AT&T was actively working with the NSA from at least 2003 to 2013. While it is not known whether the co-operative arrangement is still in place, it looks as though it has existed prior to the period covered by the documents. AT&T's "extreme willingness to help" is praised by the NSA - hardly surprising considering the collaboration gave the NSA access to billions of email sent over AT&T's network.
It appears that AT&T was a willing participant in the arrangement rather than having to be coerced into it; the documents remind NSA officials that "this is a partnership, not a contractual relationship". Several old surveillance programs are referred to in the documents including one dating back to 1985 called Fairview. The New York Times reports that former intelligence officials confirm that AT&T was a program partner.
It is also revealed that AT&T helped the NSA to spy on the UN by allowing access to the communication line it provided to the United Nations HQ. The documents show that AT&T was the first NSA partners to enable a data collection system on its network in September 2003. This operation was soon picking up more than a million emails per day based on keyword selection.
We also learn that the NSA spent $188.9 million on the Fairview program alone in 2011, while a document from 2013 find the NSA saying that AT&T's " corporate relationships provide unique accesses to other telecoms and ISPs". It seems to have been the case that AT&T was responsible for conducting surveillance on behalf of the NSA, passing on data based on various, changing requirements.
AT&T has refused to comment on the revelations. You can check out the full NSA documentation on the New York Times websites.