AT&T Has Employees Embedded In The Gov't Providing Near Realtime Searches On Nearly Every Phone Call

from the forget-the-nsa dept

We’ve obviously been talking plenty about how the big telcos appear to provide tremendous amounts of data to the NSA — including, basically, call records on every single call ever made. We also discussed how the DEA appears to be getting secret info from the NSA and other intelligence agencies, via its Special Operations Division (SOD), and is then told to effectively launder where it got it’s tips from. However, over the weekend, the NY Times broke a huge story about a program called Hemisphere, set up by AT&T and the DEA, such that the DEA and a variety of other law enforcement agencies (including some at state level) have near real-time access to data on every single call that touches an AT&T switch (which goes way beyond cases where one of the parties on the call has an account with AT&T). And this database goes back to 1987 (unlike the NSA which claims to delete most data beyond five years, which may or may not be true). Also, unlike the NSA, this Hemisphere database includes location info.

Oh, and making it even crazier: the government is paying AT&T to have a bunch of AT&T employees embedded with the DEA so that they can respond to requests to search this database faster. The government insists this is no big deal (of course) in part because the “database” is not actually held by the feds, but rather by AT&T. But, really, does that distinction really matter when the AT&T employees who can query it are basically DEA employees — paid by the US government, working with DEA units? In order to query Hemisphere, the DEA and other agencies apparently just need an administrative subpoena, which is the equivalent of saying the DEA just needs to ask for it. There’s no review or oversight by a court or anything.

Furthermore, this seems to totally decimate the argument that the NSA and its defenders were making a few weeks ago, claiming that with the dragnet collection of metadata on all phone calls, it was necessary for the NSA to store this data, because it would take way too long to have the telcos do the searches for the government. They seem to have conveniently left out that there was already a program in place whereby law enforcement folks could walk over to the next cubicle and get the AT&T employee paid for by the government run a search for them with no real oversight.

Also, as with the SOD “leads” it appears that those in law enforcement making use of Hemisphere data are told to launder the use of the database. The PowerPoint presentation (which was revealed — perhaps accidentally — in response to a FOIA request) talks about “protecting the program,” which includes telling people who use the program “to never refer to Hemisphere in any official document.” It also explains how to “wall off” Hemisphere by using the information gleaned via the program to then seek a more regular subpoena for a specific carrier’s records. Basically, they use Hemisphere to find out key information and then tell law enforcement to use a different kind of subpoena to pretend the info came out of something different.

Furthermore, it appears they’ve been expanding the list of law enforcement people who can make use of Hemisphere. Washington state began allowing law enforcement in Washington to make use of Hemisphere, and they seem pretty excited about expanding such access to this massive database — which adds 4 billion call records every day. While the program is considered “unclassified,” the NY Times notes that it does not appear to have ever been mentioned publicly.

The tool is apparently quite good at locating people who are using burner phones and connecting various dots when people abandon one phone and pick up another. Obviously, you can see why such info might be valuable to law enforcement — especially the Drug Enforcement Agency — but there are serious questions about whether or not having access to all that data with so little oversight is actually legal. If you thought the NSA’s “metadata” database was big, this is much bigger. And almost no one even seemed to know it existed.

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Companies: at&t

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Comments on “AT&T Has Employees Embedded In The Gov't Providing Near Realtime Searches On Nearly Every Phone Call”

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Jay (profile) says:

What. The. Fuck...

So let’s get this straight… The reason that AT&T and Verizon hold a monopoly in America is because they buy our government. Source

That’s money that comes from taxpayers, who hold jobs, give money to provide goods and services and be protected from monopsonies. Monopsony

Our government has responded to the richest persons out there and worked damn hard to protect them. Bankers, AT&T, Verizon, etc. And we’ve gotten expensive broadband services, very poor public schools, and representatives that essentially do everything to protect the rich.

And we have the government using information laundering to throw people in jail.

Who in their RIGHT MINDS believes this should be valid, legal, or a way a society works? We literally have people starving on the streets and instead of giving them a place to stay, we just throw them in jail, making them criminals, and make them worse off?

Is this literally what America has become? A place to make us a slave to technology instead of working for much better progress?

How the hell do these people sleep at night knowing that their actions throw innocent people in jail and is part of a corruption laundering process which the mafia would approve of?

It’s utterly disgusting.

TheLastCzarnian (profile) says:

Re: Re: What. The. Fuck...

Why do people continue to spout thist stupidity?
Who the hell can afford to run for office? Joe the Plumber? No, he has to feed his family.

You have to find someone who has the time and money to run for office.

Unfortunately, most of those people are rich bastards. Therefore, we get a choice of rich bastards to elect, rather than competent and rational people.

So, no, we do not “get the government we want.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: What. The. Fuck...


In current democracies you get whatever cultural institution is in place.

To change that culture you have to change thousands of positions and fill it with people sympathetic to the new views else you change nothing and accomplish nothing by electing people who are used as punch bags for the public while behind the scene operations continue in relative calm.

You really believe those idiots that are elected know anything about all the subjects they have to deal with?
Were do they get counsel to be able to make decisions?, who shows them the numbers?

Is certainly not elected people doing that, so no you don’t get what you voted for.

Not an Electronic Rodent (profile) says:

Re: Re: What. The. Fuck...

In a democracy you get who the most people vote for

In a democracy, possibly yes (it hasn’t happened yet so I can’t say for sure).

In America and the UK (and other “democracies”) on the other hand people get the “choice” of a limited number of largely identical people who have already sold out to several major corporate in order to raise the ludicrously large amount of money and necessary corporate backing to get anywhere near a seat of power.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: What. The. Fuck...

“In a democracy you get who the most people vote for, America has the government Americans want.”

I don’t think you understand how the voting in America works – It’s not popular vote for most elections. Also, if you think the voting results are any more trustworthy than the politicians elected… well then, I have some ocean-front property in Arizona that I would like to sell you.

pixelpusher220 (profile) says:

Re: What. The. Fuck...

A funny thing struck me just now.

I remember when DirecTV was going after people virtualizing their their smartcards to be able to decrypt the content.

Over a period of months, they had minor updates to the smart card software…and it was evident that they were loading the cards with destruction code. The ‘owners’ could only wait and watch since they needed the updates to keep running.

I feel like we’re watching the tools for our societies destruction being loaded right in front of us…and we’re just watching and waiting…

out_of_the_blue says:

Just two items back, you said the opposite!

“When you share information with a corporation, that’s your choice,” — No, Mike, obviously you’re entirely wrong: corporations and gov’ts are now fully intertwined, including your precious Google, which Snowden says gives NSA “direct access” to its servers.

Some of Mike’s typical boilerplate text: “Honestly, this whole thing has left me really confused.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Talk about an Unconstitutional nuclear bomb going off. I tried tell you guys AT&T attempted to man-in-the-middle my TextSecure key exchange, and then sent me a forged text message claiming to be from my friends phone number. Not to mention server-side DSN redirecting my phone’s web browser to a FinFisher spyware “update”.

No one would listen to me though. They all thought I was crazy. Well, who’s crazy now! 😛

Anonymous Coward says:

so, basically, for almost 30 years, the NSA and other security forces have been able to get any phone call in or out of a number, have denied doing it as well as denied having the ability to do it. on top of which, to try to maintain the program, ensuring that no one who could stop it knew about it, it has been ‘shrouded’ and never officially mentioned! and no one in government thinks there is anything wrong with this? the most important question to ask, given the time frame and the program’s ability, how come it didn’t alert the government security agencies to the impending 9/11 attacks? if it did alert them, why did they not act on the information, because i dont believe for 1 second that there weren’t any communication by phone between those concerned? as it appears to have achieved nothing of any consequence, including 9/11, why is it still running now? no way can anyone convince the people that it is still worth carrying it on. they could try to convince the existing relatives of those that were murdered in that catastrophe!

Chris ODonnell (profile) says:

So What...

Serious question. Does anybody see any serious progress within the Federal Government to do something about all of this? As far as I can tell, 90% of Congress, along with the entire executive branch and probably most of the Supreme Court are all-in on supporting the surveillance state.

We can vote the bums out, but I think recent history tells us that the new bums will be more of the same.

Disbelief System says:

All this to catch potheads & cokeheads?

Seems an awful lot of work and expense just to catch potheads, cokeheads and their suppliers.

But imagine if the government had this ability during the slavery era after the Fugitive Slave Act was passed. They could have completely shut down the underground railroad and jailed all its participants.

Drug users are just a new convenient minority the majority has decided to oppress. But you can be guaranteed that once drugs are legalized they’ll use this same system to go after some other minority group whom some future administration determines is a “threat” to America. The government never voluntarily reduces its power. It always expands and increases its power. Who will be its next target?

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: Roll up! Roll up! Get your tinfoil hats here!

Christians as the next target?

Given that religious authoritarians are helping to drive this, backed by idiots who believe they are being oppressed by teh ebil afeists & Communists!!111eleventy-one1!!, I doubt it.

Follow the money and legislative trail. The next targets have already been identified; 1) Muslims and 2) Progressives, who have already been demonized as Socialists.

After that, I predict a Night of Long Knives to eliminate the Libertarians, starting with the Minarchists because they’re anti-government, and ending with the small “L” guys because they’re anti-overreach, and we mustn’t challenge the status quo.

After that, anyone who criticizes the system will be fair game.

Inigo Montoya says:


He keeps using that word.
I’m not sure he knows what it means.

Decimation (Latin: decimatio; decem = “ten”) was a form of military discipline used by senior commanders in the Roman Army to punish units or large groups guilty of capital offences such as mutiny or desertion. The word decimation is derived from Latin meaning “removal of a tenth”. The procedure was a pragmatic attempt to balance the need to punish serious offences with the practicalities of dealing with a large group of offenders.

Anonymous Coward says:

There is a reason the AT&T deathstar meme exists.

Here is the way out.

DIY, start rigging your home with a secure network, experiment, discover and see how it is done and then go and try something bigger, with house of friends making part of that network, than you try the entire neighborhood with wireless communication that you control, then rig the city, then rig states across.

It may take decades, but the death grip that those companies have on you will disappear plus it also will kill the MAFIAA plans to make everyone responsible for everything LoL

Right now the government and the telcos are very confident that only them can create and maintain this type of service, maybe is time to show them that we are not that dumb and dependent and can move away from them if this crap continue.

Wireless P2P networks for the win.

Wikipedia: Wireless Mesh Network

Skeptical Cynic (profile) says:

Fools are we...

We are fools to believe that the greatest monopoly ever allowed and then re-allowed (by consolidation and mergers) by government was without agreements that the government found favorable.

AT&T is and always will be to some extent an extension of the pursuit to monitor each individual by entities that allowed it to act as it did and does. AT&T is the largest phone, cell service provider not because it is the best but because it is the foundation for those that control access to services and data bandwidth. And to provide to the government the access needed to do what the government wants to do in the name of power, and secondarily control. AT&T gets the room to re-consolidate and the government gets the ability via a near universal access to what they want.

Anonymous Coward says:

WTF? Another secret private program that doesn’t need the ok or oversight of a court to go into your most private parts of your life just in case. No limitation, even your death it appears has any effect on the holding of data.

We need some serious revamping of right to privacy laws. What gives AT&T the right to hold on to private records for this length of time? And the BS over what it costs to hold 5 years of data when they’ve been doing this all along. That alone looks like another corporate welfare waiting in the wings for the taxpayer to pay. The Reps claim they are serious about budgets and funding? Please. The only thing they are obviously serious about with funding is how much they got to give the little guy before all the big fish gobble the rest up. Here is where funding needs to be closely looked at.

The more that comes out, the less this country resembles the land of the free and the more it resembles China or Russia. It’s getting harder by the day to distinguish between them. So how long before the peons are getting gulags and re-education camps? I understand little Bush already had them built.

Disbelief System says:

This is Proof Total Surveillance Doesn't Work

So, they’ve had total surveillance now for decades but has that in any way reduced the amount of drugs entering the country? Somehow all this surveillance can’t catch the 1000s of cars, trucks, boats, planes, and people needed to run this massive drug enterprise? Does anyone here think that someone who wants to get stoned tonight will have ANY problem finding a supply in any big or medium sized city in this country? If stoners and crackheads can outsmart our entire surveillance infrastructure does anyone have faith these same systems can protect us from determined terrorists?

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