Telcos 'Volunteered' To Hand Over Data To NSA… And Got Over $100 Million For It

from the the-industrial-intelligence-complex dept

We’ve written a few times about the questionable nature of the “intelligence-industrial complex” in which various private companies are very tightly intertwined with the government’s surveillance efforts, and are profiting handsomely from those efforts, giving everyone the incentive to play up bogus “threats” and to continually expand surveillance without oversight. Julian Sanchez has a great piece exploring some of the details on one of the more recent leaks from the Snowden files, involving the Inspector General’s report looking into the original warrantless surveillance program called Stellar Wind (which was revealed years ago) by whistleblowers like Bill Binney, as well as the NY Times.

As Sanchez notes, while Stellar Wind had been talked about extensively, there were still many important details that hadn’t been know that were revealed in this report, including that the program was much broader than originally reported, that President Bush almost certainly lied in public about the extent of the program, that the decision to spy on Americans came from Cheney’s office (without consulting the NSA) and the actual numbers of people being spied on, both domestic and foreign (37,644 people, 3,018 of whom were Americans — though that only counts the “targets” and not the many Americans they likely emailed with or called, whose communications were also intercepted).

But perhaps the most interesting is the role of the telcos. As Sanchez notes, it would appear that AT&T and Verizon actively “volunteered” to hand over data to the government… and then proceeded to make over $100 million dollars as the government paid for this “voluntary” dismantling of the privacy of their customers.

After the attacks of September 11, 2001—but before President Bush authorized the program that would become STELLAR WIND on October 4—two major telecommunications companies approached the NSA to volunteer their assistance. Though they’re identified only as “COMPANY A” and “COMPANY B” in the reports, experts agree that they are almost certainly AT&T and Verizon. One of them, COMPANY B, had even done some of its own freelance intelligence work: it told the NSA that it had “noticed odd patterns in domestic calling records surrounding the events of 11 September and offered call records and analysis.”

Then again, perhaps “volunteer” isn’t quite the right word. The report tallies the costs of the program, which came to a bit more than $146 million over fiscal years 2002–2006. But only about $44 million of that went to the software and hardware infrastructure needed to sift through all that data. By far the biggest expense category—accounting for the other $102 million in outlays—was the “metadata and content” itself, an apparent reference to payments to the participating telecoms.

It remains telling that AT&T and Verizon have remained almost entirely silent about all of this, as various other companies mentioned in much more limited programs, have been pretty vocal about things.

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Companies: at&t, verizon

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Comments on “Telcos 'Volunteered' To Hand Over Data To NSA… And Got Over $100 Million For It”

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John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

If there is no government there can be no cronyism

I don’t see how this follows. You can totally have an economic system without a government, and you can totally have cronyism with any economic system.

(This is ignoring the fact that it’s literally impossible to have a society without some form of government and some form of economic system — both of those are inevitable products of people living together. But they are logically independent.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Response to: Zakida Paul on Jul 11th, 2013 @ 7:14am

This is an absolutely retarded comment.

The government is an external actor who can do basically whatever the fuck they want, they are not part of the marketplace legitimatly.

‘I scratch your back and you scratch mine’ is voluntary exchange. Sure sounds evil.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

America version of capitalism is; ill pay a single mom minimum wage to scratch my back 12 hours a day. will she be unhappy she needs to work that much instead of spending time with her kids?, sure she will, but where else is she going to go? Us rich folk did a number on the economy and now they have little choice.

Anonymous Coward says:

Sounds like the Telcos screw all their customers -- including the NSA

Regarding wiretaps in general:

AT&T, for example, imposes a $325 “activation fee” for each wiretap and $10 a day to maintain it. Smaller carriers Cricket and U.S. Cellular charge only about $250 per wiretap. But snoop on a Verizon customer? That costs the government $775 for the first month and $500 each month after that, according to industry disclosures made last year to Congressman Edward Markey.


Anonymous Coward says:

WOW $100 Million

private companies are very tightly intertwined with the government’s surveillance efforts, and are profiting handsomely from those efforts,

100 mil, “handsomely” !!!! ??? WFT..

$100 million dollars to the US Government or to Telco’s IS very, very slightly above ZERO.. Freaking pocket change..

20Cents per day for 1 week, off a third of your population would cover that !!!

Paid handsomely.. yea right!!!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: WOW $100 Million

Did you really think posting ‘well to them $100 million isn’t even that much’ would be an effective diversionary tactic in your effort to draw everyone’s attention away from the fact that they volunteered and were paid to betray their customer’s trust? Somehow it’s better that this betrayal came ‘relatively’ cheaply?

Bengie says:

Re: WOW $100 Million

60% net profit on $140m is pretty good for illegally selling private information.

I bet the managers got to pocket a lot of that money because it was classified information that this was even happening.

Hmm… Free money entering a publicly traded company. Gotta keep those books balanced to not reflect what is going on… Lets just shuffle around a few funds and no one will ever know.

RD says:

Re: WOW $100 Million

“$100 million dollars to the US Government or to Telco’s IS very, very slightly above ZERO.. Freaking pocket change..

20Cents per day for 1 week, off a third of your population would cover that !!!

Paid handsomely.. yea right!!!!”

Ok so now we are clear: you are FINE with the telcos BETRAYING their customers and the American People to government interests, and the ONLY part you have a problem with is how much they got PAID to do it (not enough, in your estimation.) Got it.

You are a traitor and human waste.

Paul says:

So, when are some of our “Leaders/Officials” going to be charged with criminal offenses? Will it require a “revolt” by “We the People”. I’m ready for it. We cannot trust or present Officials & Leaders. They have been purchased, they make secret laws & changes to our current laws for those who bribe them. The NSA & DOJ are completely out of control. “In Greed We Trust” is not what our forefathers and I fought for. As a 100% disabled Naval Veteran, I would like my “Constitution” and my “Privacy” back….

Nurlip (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

There have been two movies this year featuring detailed plans on how to over take the White House/government and both plans were moderately successful! The key is finding that seemingly random secret service member who was recently disgraced and taking him/her out before the rest of the plan goes into action. There’s no way it can fail!

Anonymous Coward says:

I received an email this morning from AT&T about new programs related to their privacy policy. They informed me they would be sharing my data with other companies, I in turn informed them they did not have my consent and if they are found to have shared one word about me I would be turning the matter over to my attorney.

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