[News] The NSA’s Hidden Spy Hubs In Eight U.S. Cities

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Jun 25 11:53:08 EDT 2018


  The NSA’s Hidden Spy Hubs In Eight U.S. Cities

Ryan Gallagher <https://theintercept.com/staff/ryan-gallagher/>, Henrik 
Moltke <https://theintercept.com/staff/moltke/>- June 25 2018

T_he secrets are_ hidden behind fortified walls in cities across the 
United States, inside towering windowless skyscrapers and fortress-like 
concrete structures that were built to withstand earthquakes and even 
nuclear attack. Thousands of people pass by the buildings each day and 
rarely give them a second glance, because their function is not publicly 
known. They are an integral part of one of the world’s largest 
telecommunications networks – and they are also linked to a 
controversial National Security Agency surveillance program.

Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, 
Seattle, and Washington, D.C. In each of these cities, The Intercept has 
identified an AT&T facility containing networking equipment that 
transports large quantities of internet traffic across the United States 
and the world. A body of evidence – including classified NSA documents, 
public records, and interviews with several former AT&T employees – 
indicates that the buildings are central to an NSA spying initiative 
that has for years monitored billions of emails, phone calls, and online 
chats passing across U.S. territory.

The NSA considers AT&T to be one of its most trusted partners and has 
lauded the company’s “extreme willingness to help.” It is a 
collaboration that dates back decades. Little known, however, is that 
its scope is not restricted to AT&T’s customers. According to the NSA’s 
it values AT&T not only because it “has access to information that 
transits the nation,” but also because it maintains unique relationships 
with other phone and internet providers. The NSA exploits these 
relationships for surveillance purposes, commandeering AT&T’s massive 
infrastructure and using it as a platform to covertly tap into 
communications processed by other companies.

Much has previously been reported about the NSA’s surveillance programs. 
But few details have been disclosed about the physical infrastructure 
that enables the spying. Last year, The Intercept highlighted 
a likely NSA facility in New York City’s Lower Manhattan. Now, we are 
revealing for the first time a series of other buildings across the U.S. 
that appear to serve a similar function, as critical parts of one of the 
world’s most powerful electronic eavesdropping systems, hidden in plain 

“It’s eye-opening and ominous the extent to which this is happening 
right here on American soil,” said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the 
Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. 
“It puts a face on surveillance that we could never think of before in 
terms of actual buildings and actual facilities in our own cities, in 
our own backyards.”

There are hundreds of AT&T-owned properties scattered across the U.S. 
The eight identified by The Intercept serve a specific function, 
processing AT&T customers’ data and also carrying large quantities of 
data from other internet providers. They are known as “backbone” and 
“peering” facilities.

While network operators would usually prefer to send data through their 
own networks, often a more direct and cost-efficient path is provided by 
other providers’ infrastructure. If one network in a specific area of 
the country is overloaded with data traffic, another operator with 
capacity to spare can sell or exchange bandwidth, reducing the strain on 
the congested region. This exchange of traffic is called “peering” and 
is an essential feature of the internet.

Because of AT&T’s position as one of the U.S.’s leading 
telecommunications companies, it has a large network that is frequently 
used by other providers to transport their customers’ data. Companies 
that “peer” with AT&T include the American telecommunications giants 
Sprint, Cogent Communications, and Level 3, as well as foreign companies 
such as Sweden’s Telia, India’s Tata Communications, Italy’s Telecom 
Italia, and Germany’s Deutsche Telekom.

AT&T currently boasts 19,500 “points of presence” in 149 countries where 
internet traffic is exchanged. But only eight of the company’s 
facilities in the U.S. offer direct access to its “common backbone” – 
key data routes that carry vast amounts of emails, internet chats, 
social media updates, and internet browsing sessions. These eight 
locations are among the most important in AT&T’s global network. They 
are also highly valued by the NSA, documents indicate.

The data exchange between AT&T and other networks initially takes place 
outside AT&T’s control, sources said, at third-party data centers that 
are owned and operated by companies such as California’s Equinix. But 
the data is then routed – in whole or in part – through the eight AT&T 
buildings, where the NSA taps into it. By monitoring what it calls the 
“peering circuits” at the eight sites, the spy agency can collect “not 
only AT&T’s data, they get all the data that’s interchanged between 
AT&T’s network and other companies,” according to Mark Klein, a former 
AT&T technician who worked with the company for 22 years. It is an 
efficient point to conduct internet surveillance, Klein said, “because 
the peering links, by the nature of the connections, are liable to carry 
everybody’s traffic at one point or another during the day, or the week, 
or the year.”

Christopher Augustine, a spokesperson for the NSA, said in a statement 
that the agency could “neither confirm nor deny its role in alleged 
classified intelligence activities.” Augustine declined to answer 
questions about the AT&T facilities, but said that the NSA “conducts its 
foreign signals intelligence mission under the legal authorities 
established by Congress and is bound by both policy and law to protect 
U.S. persons’ privacy and civil liberties.”

Jim Greer, an AT&T spokesperson, said that AT&T was “required by law to 
provide information to government and law enforcement entities by 
complying with court orders, subpoenas, lawful discovery requests, and 
other legal requirements.” He added that the company provides “voluntary 
assistance to law enforcement when a person’s life is in danger and in 
other immediate, emergency situations. In all cases, we ensure that 
requests for assistance are valid and that we act in compliance with the 

Dave Schaeffer, CEO of Cogent Communications, told The Intercept that he 
had no knowledge of the surveillance at the eight AT&T buildings, but 
said he believed “the core premise that the NSA or some other agency 
would like to look at traffic … at an AT&T facility.” He said he 
suspected that the surveillance is likely carried out on “a limited 
basis,” due to technical and cost constraints. If the NSA were trying to 
“ubiquitously monitor” data passing across AT&T’s networks, Schaeffer 
added, he would be “extremely concerned.”

Sprint, Telia, Tata Communications, Telecom Italia, and Deutsche Telekom 
did not respond to requests for comment. CenturyLink, which owns Level 
3, said it would not discuss “matters of national security.”

T_he eight locations_ are featured on a top-secret NSA map, which 
depicts U.S. facilities that the agency relies upon for one of its 
largest surveillance programs, code-named FAIRVIEW. AT&T is the only 
company involved in FAIRVIEW, which was first established in 1985, 
according to NSA documents, and involves tapping into international 
telecommunications cables, routers, and switches.

In 2003, the NSA launched new internet mass surveillance methods, which 
were pioneered under the FAIRVIEW program. The methods were used by the 
agency to collect – within a few months – some 400 billion records about 
people’s internet communications and activity, the New York Times 
previously reported 
FAIRVIEW was also forwarding more than 1 million emails every day to a 
“keyword selection system” at the NSA’s Fort Meade headquarters.

Central to the internet spying are eight “peering link router complex” 
sites, which are pinpointed on the top-secret NSA map. The locations of 
the sites mirror maps of AT&T’s networks, obtained by The Intercept from 
public records, which show “backbone node with peering” facilities in 
Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, 
Seattle, and Washington, D.C.

One of the AT&T maps contains unique codes individually identifying the 
addresses of the facilities in each of the cities.

Among the pinpointed buildings, there is a nuclear blast-resistant, 
windowless facility in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood; in 
Washington, D.C., a fortress-like, concrete structure less than half a 
mile south of the U.S. Capitol; in Chicago, an earthquake-resistant 
skyscraper in the West Loop Gate area; in Atlanta, a 429-foot art deco 
structure in the heart of the city’s downtown district; and in Dallas, a 
cube-like building with narrow windows and large vents on its exterior, 
located in the Old East district.

Elsewhere, on the west coast of the U.S., there are three more 
facilities: in downtown Los Angeles, a striking concrete tower near the 
Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Staples Center, two blocks from the 
most important internet exchange in the region; in Seattle, a 15-story 
building with blacked-out windows and reinforced concrete foundations, 
near the city’s waterfront; and in San Francisco’s South of Market 
neighborhood, a building where it was previously claimed that the NSA 
was monitoring internet traffic from a secure room on the sixth floor.

The peering sites – otherwise known in AT&T parlance as “Service Node 
Routing Complexes,” or SNRCs – were developed following the internet 
boom in the mid- to late 1990s. By March 2009, the NSA’s documents say 
it was tapping into “peering circuits at the eight SNRCs.”

The facilities’ purpose was to bolster AT&T’s network, improving its 
reliability and enabling future growth. They were developed under the 
leadership of an Iranian-American innovator and engineer named Hossein 
Eslambolchi, who was formerly AT&T’s chief technology officer and 
president of AT&T Labs, a division of the company that focuses on 
research and development.

Eslambolchi told The Intercept that the project to set up the facilities 
began after AT&T asked him to help create “the largest internet protocol 
network in the world.” He obliged and began implementing his network 
design by placing large Cisco routers inside former AT&T phone switching 
facilities across the U.S. When planning the project, he said he divided 
AT&T’s network into different regions, “and in every quadrant I will 
have what I will call an SNRC.”

During his employment with AT&T, Eslambolchi said he had to take a 
polygraph test, and he obtained a government security clearance. “I was 
involved in very, very top, heavy-duty projects for a few of these 
three-letter agencies,” he said, in an apparent reference to U.S. 
intelligence agencies. “They all loved me.”

He would not confirm or deny the exact locations of the eight peering 
sites identified by The Intercept or discuss the classified work he 
carried out while with the company. “You put a gun to my head,” he said, 
“I’m not going to tell you.”

Other former AT&T employees, however, were more forthcoming.

A former senior member of AT&T’s technical staff, who spoke on condition 
of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject, confirmed with “100 
percent” certainty the locations of six of the eight peering facilities 
identified by The Intercept. The source, citing direct knowledge of the 
facilities and their function, verified the addresses of the buildings 
in Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City, Seattle, and Washington, 

A second former AT&T employee confirmed the locations of the remaining 
two sites, in Chicago and San Francisco. “I worked with all of them,” 
said Philip Long, who was employed by AT&T for more than two decades as 
a technician servicing its networks. Long’s work with AT&T was carried 
out mostly in California, but he said his job required him to be in 
contact with the company’s other facilities across the U.S. In about 
2005, Long recalled, he received orders to move “every internet backbone 
circuit I had in northern California” through the San Francisco AT&T 
building identified by The Intercept as one of the eight NSA spy hubs. 
Long said that, at the time, he felt suspicious of the changes, because 
they were unusual and unnecessary. “We thought we were routing our 
circuits so that they could grab all the data,” he said. “We thought it 
was the government listening.” He retired from his job with AT&T in 2014.

A third former AT&T employee reviewed The Intercept’s research and said 
he believed it accurately identified all eight of the facilities. “The 
site data certainly seems correct,” said Thomas Saunders, who worked as 
a data networking consultant for AT&T in New York City between 1995 and 
2004. “Those nodes aren’t going to move.”

A_n estimated 99 percent_ of the world’s intercontinental internet 
traffic is transported through hundreds of giant fiber optic cables 
hidden beneath the world’s oceans. A large portion of the data and 
communications that pass across the cables is routed at one point 
through the U.S., partly because of the country’s location – situated 
between Europe, the Middle East, and Asia – and partly because of the 
pre-eminence of American internet companies, which provide services to 
people globally.

The NSA calls this predicament “home field advantage” – a kind of 
geographic good fortune. “A target’s phone call, email, or chat will 
take the cheapest path, not the physically most direct path,” one agency 
document explains 
“Your target’s communications could easily be flowing into and through 
the U.S.”

Once the internet traffic arrives on U.S. soil, it is processed by 
American companies. And that is why, for the NSA, AT&T is so 
indispensable. The company claims it has one of the world’s most 
powerful networks, the largest of its kind in the U.S. AT&T routinely 
handles masses of emails, phone calls, and internet chats. As of March 
2018, some 197 petabytes of data – the equivalent of more than 49 
trillion pages of text, or 60 billion average-sized mp3 files – traveled 
across its networks every business day.

The NSA documents, which come from the trove provided to The Intercept 
by the whistleblower Edward Snowden, describe AT&T as having been 
“aggressively involved” in aiding the agency’s surveillance programs. 
One example of this appears to have taken place at the eight facilities 
under a classified initiative called SAGUARO.

As part of SAGUARO, AT&T developed a strategy to help the NSA 
electronically eavesdrop on internet data from the “peering circuits” at 
the eight sites, which were said to connect to the “common backbone,” 
major data routes carrying internet traffic.

The company worked with the NSA to rank communications flowing through 
its networks on the basis of intelligence value, prioritizing data 
depending on which country it was derived from, according to a 
top-secret agency document 

NSA diagrams 
reveal that after it collects data from AT&T’s “access links” and 
“peering partners,” it is sent to a “centralized processing facility” 
code-named PINECONE, located somewhere in New Jersey. Inside the 
PINECONE facility, there is a secure space in which there is both 
NSA-controlled and AT&T-controlled equipment. Internet traffic passes 
through an AT&T “distribution box” to two NSA systems. From there, the 
data is then transferred about 200 miles southwest to its final 
destination: NSA headquarters at Fort Meade in Maryland.

At the Maryland compound, the communications collected from AT&T’s 
networks are integrated into powerful systems called MAINWAY and MARINA, 
which the NSA uses to analyze metadata – such as the “to” and “from” 
parts of emails, and the times and dates they were sent. The 
communications obtained from AT&T are also made accessible through a 
tool named XKEYSCORE, which NSA employees use to search through the full 
contents of emails, instant messenger chats, web-browsing histories, 
webcam photos, information about downloads from online services, and 
Skype sessions.

T_he NSA’s primary_ mission is to gather foreign intelligence. The 
agency has broad legal powers to monitor emails, phone calls, and other 
forms of correspondence as they are being transported across the U.S., 
and it can compel companies such as AT&T to install surveillance 
equipment within their networks.

Under a Ronald Reagan-era presidential directive – Executive Order 12333 
– the NSA has what it calls “transit authority,” which it says enables 
it to eavesdrop on “communications which originate and terminate in 
foreign countries, but traverse U.S. territory.” That could include, for 
example, an email sent by a person in France to a person in Mexico, 
which on its way to its destination was routed through a server in 
California. According to the NSA’s documents, it was using AT&T’s 
networks as of March 2013 to gather some 60 million foreign-to-foreign 
emails every day, 1.8 billion per month.

Without an individualized court order, it is illegal for the NSA to spy 
on communications that are wholly domestic, such as emails sent back and 
forth between two Americans living in Texas. However, in the aftermath 
of the 9/11 attacks, the agency began eavesdropping on Americans’ 
international calls and emails that were passing between the U.S. and 
other countries. That practice was exposed by the New York Times 
in 2005 and triggered what became known as the “warrantless wiretapping” 

Critics argued that the surveillance of Americans’ international 
communications was illegal, because the NSA had carried it out without 
obtaining warrants from a judge and had instead acted on the orders of 
President George W. Bush. In 2008, Congress weighed into the dispute and 
controversially authorized elements of the warrantless wiretapping 
program by enacting Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence and 
Surveillance Act, or FISA. The new law allowed the NSA to continue 
sweeping up Americans’ international communications without a warrant, 
so long as it did so “incidentally” while it was targeting foreigners 
overseas – for instance, if it was monitoring people in Pakistan, and 
they were talking with Americans in the U.S. by phone, email, or through 
an internet chat service.

Within AT&T’s networks, there is filtering equipment designed to 
separate foreign and domestic internet data before it is passed to the 
NSA, the agency’s documents show. Filtering technology is often used by 
internet providers for security reasons, enabling them to keep tabs on 
problems with their networks, block out spam, or monitor hacking 
attacks. But the same tools can be used for government surveillance.

“You can essentially trick the routers into redirecting a small subset 
of traffic you really care about, which you can monitor in more detail,” 
said Jennifer Rexford, a computer scientist who worked for AT&T Labs 
between 1996 and 2005.

According to the NSA’s documents 
it programs its surveillance systems to focus on particular IP addresses 
– a set of numbers that identify a computer – associated with foreign 
countries. A classified 2012 memo describes the agency’s efforts to use 
IP addresses to home in on internet data passing between the U.S. and 
particular “regions of interest,” including Iran, Afghanistan, Israel, 
Nigeria, Pakistan, Yemen, Sudan, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. But this 
process is not an exact science, as people can use privacy or anonymity 
tools to change or spoof their IP addresses. A person in Israel could 
use privacy software to masquerade as if they were accessing the 
internet in the U.S. Likewise, an internet user in the U.S. could make 
it appear as if they were online in Israel. It is unclear how effective 
the NSA’s systems are at detecting such anomalies.

In October 2011, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which 
approves the surveillance operations carried out under Section 702 of 
FISA, found that there were “technological limitations” with the 
agency’s internet eavesdropping equipment. It was “generally incapable 
of distinguishing” between some kinds of data, the court stated. As a 
consequence, Judge John D. Bates ruled 
the NSA had been intercepting the communications of “non-target United 
States persons and persons in the United States,” violating Fourth 
Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. The 
ruling, which was declassified in August 2013, concluded that the agency 
had acquired some 13 million “internet transactions” during one 
six-month period, and had unlawfully gathered “tens of thousands of 
wholly domestic communications” each year.

The root of the issue was that the NSA’s technology was not only 
targeting communications sent to and from specific surveillance targets. 
Instead, the agency was sweeping up people’s emails if they had merely 
mentioned particular information /about/ surveillance targets.

A top-secret NSA memo 
<https://theintercept.com/document/2018/06/25/faa702-comms-memo> about 
the court’s ruling, which has not been disclosed before, explained that 
the agency was collecting people’s messages en masse if a single one 
were found to contain a “selector” – like an email address or phone 
number – that featured on a target list.

“One example of this is when a user of a webmail service accesses her 
inbox; if the inbox contains one email message that contains an NSA 
tasked selector, NSA will acquire a copy of the entire inbox, not just 
the individual email message that contains the tasked selector,” the 
memo stated.

The court’s ruling left the agency with two options: shut down the 
spying based on mentions of targets completely, or ensure that 
protections were put in place to stop the unlawfully collected 
communications from being reviewed. The NSA chose the latter option, and 
created a “cautionary banner” that warned its analysts not to read 
particular messages unless they could confirm that they had been 
lawfully obtained.

But the cautionary banner did not solve the problem. The NSA’s analysts 
continued to access the same data repositories to search, unlawfully, 
for information on Americans. In April 2017, the agency publicly 
these violations, which it described as “inadvertent compliance 
incidents.” It said that it would no longer use surveillance programs 
authorized under Section 702 of FISA to harvest messages that mentioned 
its targets, citing “technological constraints, United States person 
privacy interests, and certain difficulties in implementation.”

The messages that the NSA had unlawfully collected were swept up using a 
method of surveillance known as “upstream,” which the agency still 
deploys for other surveillance programs authorized under both Section 
702 of FISA and Executive Order 12333. The upstream method involves 
tapping into communications as they are passing across internet networks 
– precisely the kind of electronic eavesdropping that appears to have 
taken place at the eight locations identified by The Intercept.

*Atlanta 51 Peachtree Center Avenue*

The AT&T building in Atlanta was originally constructed in the 1920s as 
the main telephone exchange for the city’s downtown area. The art deco 
structure, made of limestone, was designed to be the largest in the city 
at the time at 25 stories tall. However, due to the Great Depression, 
plans were scaled back and at first, it only had six stories. Between 
1947 and 1963, the building was upgraded to host 14 stories, and a large 
brown microwave tower – visible for miles – was also added. A profile of 
the building on theHistory Atlanta website 
notes that it contains “operations, phone exchanges and other 
communications equipment for AT&T.”

NSA and AT&T maps point to the Atlanta facility as being one of eight 
“peering” hubs that process internet traffic as part of the NSA 
surveillance program code-named


. One former AT&T employee – who spoke on condition of anonymity – 
confirmed that the site was one of eight primary AT&T“Service Node 
Routing Complexes,” or SNRCs, in the U.S. NSA documents explicitly 
describe tapping into flows of data at all eight of these sites.

Information provided by a second former AT&T employee adds to the 
evidence linking the Atlanta building to NSA surveillance. Mark Klein, a 
former AT&T technician, alleged in 2006 that the company had allowed the 
NSA to install surveillance equipment in some of its network hubs. An 
AT&T facility in Atlanta was one of the spy sites, according to 
documents Klein presented in a court case over the alleged spying. The 
Atlanta facility was equipped with “splitter” equipment, which was used 
to make copies of internet traffic as AT&T’s networks processed it. The 
copied data would then be diverted to “SG3” equipment – a reference to 
“Study Group 3” – which was a code name AT&T used for activities related 
to NSA surveillance, according to evidence in the Klein case.

The Atlanta facility is likely of strategic importance for the NSA. The 
site is the closest major AT&T internet routing center to Miami, 
according to the NSA and AT&T maps. From undersea cables that come 
aground at Miami, huge flows of data pass between the U.S. and South 
America. It is probable that much of that data is routed through the 
Atlanta facility as it is being sent to and from the U.S. In recent 
years, the NSA has extensively targeted several Latin American countries 
– such as Mexico, Brazil, and Venezuela – for surveillance.

      Chicago 10 South Canal Street

Like many other major telecommunications hubs built during the late 
1960s and early 1970s, the Chicago AT&T building was designed amid the 
Cold War to withstand a nuclear attack. The 538-foot skyscraper, located 
in the West Loop Gate area of the city, was completed in 1971. There are 
windows at both the top and bottom of the vast concrete structure, but 
18 of its 28 floors are windowless.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the facility handles much of the 
city’s phone and internet traffic and is equipped with banks of routers, 
servers, and switching systems. “This building touches every single 
resident of the city,” Jim Wilson, an AT&T area manager, told 
the newspaper in 2016.

One of the building’s architects, John Augur Holabird,said in a 1998 
interview that it housed “a big switchboard.” He added: “In case the 
atomic bomb hits Milwaukee, you’ll be happy to know your telephone line 
will still go through even though the rest of us are wiped out. And 
that’s what that building was for.” 

10 South Canal Street originally contained a million-gallon oil tank, 
turbine generators, and a water well, so that it could continue to 
function for more than two weeks without electricity or water from the 
city, according to Illinois broadcaster WBEZ. The building is “anchored 
in bedrock, which helps support the weight of the equipment inside, and 
gives it extra resistance to bomb blasts or earthquakes,” WBEZ reported 

Today, the facility contains six large V-16 yellow Caterpillar 
generators that can provide backup electricity in the event of a power 
to the Chicago Sun Times. Inside the skyscraper, AT&T stores some 
200,000 gallons of diesel fuel, enough to run the generators for 40 days.

NSA and AT&T maps point to the Chicago facility as being one of the 
“peering” hubs, which process internet traffic as part of the NSA 
surveillance program code-named FAIRVIEW. Philip Long, who was employed 
by AT&T for more than two decades as a technician servicing its 
networks, confirmed that the Chicago site was one of eight primary AT&T 
“Service Node Routing Complexes,” or SNRCs, in the U.S. NSA documents 
explicitly describe tapping into flows of data at all eight of these sites.

      Dallas 4211 Bryan Street

This AT&T building is a fortified, cube-like structure, located in the 
Old East area of Dallas, not far from Baylor University Medical Center. 
Built in 1961, it is a light yellow-brown color with a granite 
foundation. Large vents are visible on the exterior of the building, as 
are several narrow windows, many of which appear to have been blacked 
out or covered in a reflective privacy glass.

The 4211 Bryan Street facility is located next to other AT&T-owned 
buildings, including a towering telephone routing complex that was first 
built in 1904. A piece 
about the telephone hub in the Dallas Observer described it as “an 
imposing, creepy building” that is “known in some circles as The Great 
Wall of Beige.”

According to the Central Officewebsite 
which profiles telecommunications buildings across the U.S., the Dallas 
telephone hub is “the main regional tandem and AT&T for long distance 
and toll services in the Dallas Texas region.” Today, the building also 
has “major fiber connections to Plano, Irving, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Ft. 
Worth, Abilene, Houston and Austin,” the website adds.

NSA and AT&T maps point to the 4211 Bryan Street facility as being one 
of the “peering” hubs, which process internet traffic as part of the NSA 
surveillance program code-named FAIRVIEW. A former AT&T employee 
confirmed that the site was one of eight primary AT&T “Service Node 
Routing Complexes,” or SNRCs, in the U.S. NSA documents explicitly 
describe tapping into flows of data at all eight of these sites.

Los Angeles 420 South Grand Avenue

At the time of its construction in 1961, the AT&T building known as the 
Madison Complex was the tallest building in downtown Los Angeles. It has 
since been dwarfed by a number of corporate office skyscrapers in the 
surrounding Financial District.

Located between Chinatown and the Staples Center, the fortress-like 
structure is one of the largest telephone central offices in the U.S. 
“The theoretical number of telephone lines that can be served from this 
office are 1.3 million and this office also serves as a foreign exchange 
carrier to neighboring area codes,” according to the Central Office 
<http://www.thecentraloffice.com/calif/la/madison/lamadison.htm>, a 
website that profiles U.S. telecommunications hubs.

The 448-foot, 17-story building is beige, rectangular, and mostly 
windowless. On its roof, there is a large microwave tower, which was 
originally used to transmit phone calls across a network of antennae. 
The tower’s technology became obsolete in the early 1990s, and it ceased 
to operate. It remains in place today as a sort of monument to outdated 
methods of communication and stands in contrast to the more modern 
buildings in the vicinity, many of them owned by banks.

The Madison Complex is located just two blocks from One Wilshire, which 
houses what is reportedly the most important internet exchange on the 
U.S. west coast. “Billions of phone calls, emails and internet pages 
pass through One Wilshire every week,” the Los Angeles Timesreported 
in 2013, “because it is the primary terminus for major fiber-optic cable 
routes between Asia and North America.”

Due to the close proximity of the Madison Complex and One Wilshire, and 
their shared role as telecommunications hubs, it is likely that the 
buildings process some of the same data as it is being routed across 
U.S. networks.

NSA and AT&T maps point to the Madison Complex facility as being one of 
the “peering” hubs, which process internet traffic as part of the NSA 
surveillance program code-named FAIRVIEW. A former AT&T employee 
confirmed that the site was one of eight primary AT&T “Service Node 
Routing Complexes,” or SNRCs, in the U.S. NSA documents explicitly 
describe tapping into flows of data at all eight of these sites.

      New York City 811 10th Avenue

It was built in 1964 as New York City’s first major telecommunications 
fortress. The striking concrete and granite AT&T building – located in 
the Hell’s Kitchen area about a 15-minute walk from Central Park – is 
134 meters tall, with 21 floors, each one of them windowless and built 
to resist a nuclear blast.

A New York Times article 
published in 1975 noted that 811 10th Avenue was “the first of several 
windowless equipment buildings to be constructed” in the city, and added 
that its design initially “caused considerable controversy.”

According to AT&Trecords, the building is a “hardened telco data center” 
and was upgraded in 2000 to become an internet data center. Thomas 
Saunders, a former AT&T engineer, told The Intercept that, in the 1970s, 
the building was considered to be “the biggest hub for transmission [of 
communications] in the country.” Saunders also claimed that, had Bush 
been in Manhattan during the 9/11 attacks, the Secret Service would have 
taken him to safety inside the AT&T facility. “It’s the strongest 
building in town,” he said. 

NSA and AT&T maps indicate that the 10th Avenue facility is one of eight 
“peering” hubs that process internet traffic as part of the NSA 
surveillance program code-namedFAIRVIEW

. Two former AT&T employees confirmed that the site was one of eight 
primary AT&T

“Service Node Routing Complexes,”

or SNRCs, in the U.S. NSA documents explicitly describe tapping into 
flows of data at all eight of these sites.

The design of the building bears some resemblance to another windowless 
building in New York City – AT&T’s towering skyscraper at 33 Thomas 
Street in lower Manhattan. As The Interceptreported in 2016, 33 Thomas 
Street is a major hub for routing international phone calls and appears 
to contain a secure NSA surveillance room – code-named TITANPOINTE – 
that has been used to tap into faxes and phone calls. 

NSA and AT&T documents indicate that 10th Avenue building serves as the 
NSA’s internet equivalent of 33 Thomas Street. While the NSA’s 
surveillance at 33 Thomas Street mainly targets phone calls that pass 
through the building’s international switching points, at the 10th 
Avenue site the agency appears to primarily collect emails, online 
chats, and data from internet browsing sessions.

      San Francisco 611 Folsom Street

This San Francisco AT&T building has been described as the city’s 
telecommunications “nerve center.” It is about 256 feet tall, has nine 
floors, and its exterior is covered in silver-colored panels; there are 
a series of vents that can be seen at street level, but there are few 

NSA and AT&T maps obtained by The Intercept indicate that 611 Folsom 
Street is one of the eight “peering” hubs in the U.S. that process 
internet traffic as part of the NSA surveillance program code-named 
FAIRVIEW. Philip Long, who was employed by AT&T for more than two 
decades as a technician servicing its networks, confirmed that the San 
Francisco site is one of eight primary AT&T “Service Node Routing 
Complexes,” or SNRCs, in the U.S. NSA documents explicitly describe 
tapping into flows of data at all eight of these sites.

Long recalled that, in the early 2000s, he “moved every internet 
backbone circuit I had in northern California” through the Folsom Street 
office. At the time, he said, he and his colleagues found it strange 
that they were asked to suddenly reroute all of the traffic, because 
“there was nothing wrong with the services, no facility problems.”

“We were getting orders to move backbones … and it just grabbed me,” 
said Long. “We thought it was government stuff and that they were being 
intrusive. We thought we were routing our circuits so that they could 
grab all the data.”

It is not the first time the building has been implicated in revelations 
about electronic eavesdropping. In 2006, an AT&T technician named Mark 
Klein alleged in a sworn court declaration that the NSA was tapping into 
internet traffic from a secure room on the sixth floor of the facility.

Klein, who worked at 611 Folsom Street between October 2003 and May 
2004, stated that employees from the agency had visited the building and 
recruited one of AT&T’s management level technicians to carry out a 
“special job.” The job involved installing a “splitter cabinet” that 
copied internet data as it was flowing into the building, before 
diverting it into the secure room.

He said equipment in the secure room included a “semantic traffic 
analyzer” – a tool that can be used to search large quantities of data 
for particular words or phrases contained in emails or online chats. 
Notably, Klein discovered that the NSA appeared to be specifically 
targeting internet “peering links,” which is corroborated by the NSA and 
AT&T documents obtained by The Intercept.

“By cutting into the peering links, they get not only AT&T’s data, they 
get all the data that’s interchanged between AT&T’s network and other 
companies,” Klein told The Intercept in a recent interview.

According to documents provided by Klein, AT&T’s network at Folsom 
Street “peered” with other companies like Sprint, Cable & Wireless, and 
Qwest. It was also linked, he said, to an internet exchange named MAE 
West, a major data hub in San Jose, California, where other companies 
connect their networks together.

Sprint did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for 
Cable & Wireless said the company only discloses data “when legally 
required to do so as a result of a valid warrant or other legal 
process.” In 2011, CenturyLink acquired Qwest as part of a $12.2 billion 
merger deal. A CenturyLink spokesperson said he could not discuss 
“matters of national security.”

      Seattle 1122 3rd Avenue

The Seattle facility is located in the city’s downtown area, not far 
from the waterfront. The gray building is 15 stories tall, with a dozen 
rows of narrow, blacked-out windows and vents that rise to its peak. 
According to public, it was first constructed in 1955 and has reinforced 
concrete foundations and exterior walls that are supported by a steel frame.

Historically, the facility was an important communications switching 
point in the northwest of the U.S., routing calls between places like 
Bellingham, Spokane, Yakima, and north to Canada and Alaska. Today, the 
building appears to be primarily owned 
by the Qwest Corporation – a subsidiary of CenturyLink – but AT&T has a 
presence within it. AT&T’s logo is emblazoned on a plaque outside the 
building’s entrance.

Twenty-five miles north of Seattle, there is a major intercontinental 
undersea cable called Pacific Crossing-1, which routes communications 
between the U.S. and Japan; it is possible that the Seattle building 
processes some of these communications and others that pass between the 
U.S. west coast and Asia.

NSA and AT&T maps point to the Seattle facility as being of eight 
“peering” hubs that process internet traffic as part of the NSA 
surveillance program code-named

. A former AT&T employee confirmed that the site was one of eight 
primary AT&T

“Service Node Routing Complexes,”

or SNRCs, in the U.S. NSA documents explicitly describe tapping into 
flows of data at all eight of these sites.

      Washington, D.C. 30 E Street Southwest

The building is a large, concrete, rectangular-shaped facility with few 
windows, located less than a mile south of the U.S. Capitol. Property 
tax records show that Verizon owns the majority of the property (worth 
$26 million), while AT&T owns a smaller part (worth $8.8 million). Plans 
of the building’s internal layout show that AT&T has space on the 
fourth, fifth, and sixth floors.

Central Office Buildings, a website 
<http://www.co-buildings.com/dc/202/> that profiles telecommunications 
hubs in North America, describes the 30 E Street South West facility as 
“the granddaddy HQ of Verizon landline in Washington, DC.” It adds that 
the building contains a “a slew of switches of various types,” including 
AT&T equipment for routing long distance phone calls across networks.

Capitol Police has an office located opposite the telecommunications 
hub, and a large number of police vehicles are usually located around 
the site. When The Intercept visited the facility to take photographs 
earlier this year, within a few minutes, several armed police officers 
arrived on the scene with dogs. They questioned our reporter, searched 
his car, and said that the building was considered critical infrastructure.

NSA and AT&T maps point to the Washington, D.C. facility as being one of 
eight “peering” hubs that process internet traffic as part of the NSA 
surveillance program code-named FAIRVIEW. A former AT&T employee 
confirmed that the site was one of eight primary AT&T “Service Node 
Routing Complexes,” or SNRCs, in the U.S. NSA documents explicitly 
describe tapping into flows of data at all eight of these sites.


Documents published with this article:

  * FAA702 comms memo
  * FAIRVIEW brief overview
  * FAIRVIEW overview with notes
  * SSO dictionary relevant entries
  * SSO news relevant entries

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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