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October 11, 2007


That's amusing, to say the least, that Risen's story predates Nacchio's indictment by five days. Did Bush and Cheney take oligarch-purging lessons from Vlad?

I wonder what those other telecom CEOs might let spill to an inquisitive Congressional committee. Perhaps we should convene a committee or two (Nancy and Steny and Harry) before we vote on that immunity deal?? A shitload of 5th Amendment pleas would be instructive for the country, in my humble estimation.

On the Clock

Yeah, isn't that remarkable? And his indictment was just days BEFORE Risen and Lichtblau provided their biggest details on the program.

Ah, I see this in a recent post this morning at FDL:

"…the Senate bill (Committee draft) does contain immunity/amnesty for the telecom companies…Including retroactive immunity for anything they’ve done wrong in cooperating in illegal domestic spying for the past six years."

This is exactly what I said would happen; and trust me, I am not that smart. They are running the same basic play they ran on the PAA. The house has one bill that semi-placates the noisy Democratic citizens that actually understand and can spell Constitution, while the Senate has the bill that screws everybody and the result is that through procedural manipulation the final version does what? Yep, screw everybody. Who could have predicted this? I will bet dollars to donuts that, again, this has been agreed to and arranged with Dem Leadersheep, the GOP and the White House. Mukasey, the judges sent up recently, ... I am starting to think the whole thing is a fucking set up sham. This just isn't right.

Wow. These documents are fascinating. I think I've finally figured out the part of this that's always puzzled me, "the foreign to foreign" communications that pass through the U.S. I've been assuming it was mostly data traffic, but these documents make it look like that the U.S. government got the telcos to buy up fiber optic routes all over the world so that they could funnel everything (data and voice) that hits a fiber anywhere in the world directly into the U.S. With fiber optics, you can pretty easily split the signal with virtually no attentuation. Of course, the bandwidth you need to do this is enormous.

On the Clock and EW - State Secrets will be invoked; there will be no such testimony. If subpoenas are issued, there will be executive orders to refuse compliance, and no enforcement. This absolutely critical story is being yanked right out from under our eyes. The SCOTUS refusal to grant cert, earlier this week (absolutely key indicator that there is no desire by SCOTUS to protect the people on the wiretapping and state secrets issues) coupled with the immunity grant and Keisler are sending this down a black hole.


Yeah, that's what I sensed, too. That Nacchio is willing to reveal the underlying deliberate attempt to route everything through the US, which necessitated amending FISA, and so on.

I did know they had done that--perhaps didn't know that they had done so so blatantly--but it appears the data mining was just the tail end of a logical progression.

BTW, I think I understand what this means...

With fiber optics, you can pretty easily split the signal with virtually no attentuation.

... but can you explain it in detail?

Gee Bmaz, Did we go to school together or something?

What I wrote a couple a days ago on the kabuki aka set up

Here’s how the kabuki will play out IMHOP
1. Regardless of the Holt or Markup bill passing the House
2.The Senate will pass a toothless bill that Greenwald et al fear, and
3. The joint conference will end up giving the Administration all they want including retroactive immunity. If they can pass it through both houses with house language, some aid to Specter or Hatch will insert all the administration wants and the president will sign with an attached signing statement and,
4. we will still not be privy to the flimsy legal reasoning nor what’s been done under color of law.

Sorry for the rant, but somehow I have seen this before.
I think we progressives are all that stand between fascism and getting back the country whose values I hold self evident.

Besides routing foreign traffic through the US, they could also use this setup to route purely domestic traffic through a foreign intermediary. With some minor manipulation of the packet IDs, they might be able to make a quasi-argument that this traffic originated from a foreign location, and was thereby subject to FISA. I guess you could see how even some committed wingnuts might worry about the legality of such a scheme.

Ok, here's the ignorant asking questions again.

I have this vague notion that the whole point of Echelon was to have the Brits, Canadians, Aussies etc wiretap our domestic communications, and we'd wiretap theirs, and then everyone shares the data, thus evading all the laws about not wiretapping your own citizens.

Was that ever, at any point, the system? Do we know it's not still?

Steven Benen at Carpetbagger Reports has another Nacchio quote that has him saying he was asked in Feb 2001 to do something he thought was illegal by NSA. That date jumped out at me, a full 7 months BEFORE Sept11.

I don't know if the man is guilty as charged, but I do know the Justice Dept would go after someone who didn't play ball in Cheney's power grab.


Yeah, that's why I put the Slate quote in there. We've known that the circuit gig happened in early 2001 (the document I'm reading now says it was first planning in 2000, but then got put on hold). But it appears that Nacchio was asked to do things: give the NSA his circuits, and do data mining. It is the latter that he objected to.


My problem is that I clearly don't think big enough to grasp what the NSA is trying to accomplish. The best way to explain this is with an example.

Maria, a college student in Santiago, Chile, uses her cell phone to call her boyfriend Juan on his cell(also in Santiago). Between the cell tower that Maria's phone hits and the one that Juan's phone uses, the call will be switched on to a fiber optic cable. No matter who owns that fiber, it'll have an interconnect with Qwest. The hardware/software combination that makes sure that the call gets switched to the correct wireless carrier for Juan's phone is also capable of sending, in real-time, an exact copy of the optical signals representing Juan and Maria's voices to anywhere else on Quest's network.

Now, the government can't keep up with every Juan and Maria in the world, but the amount of bandwidth the government was buying would give us an idea of how much spying they were planning on doing.


Okay, that's what I thought (I did take a class in telecom in grad school; I'm not always talking outtamyarse).

One more question. Do you agree that Groundbreaker is actually the AT&T NSA switchroom--that is, AT&T got it after Qwest refused? Which would say that that's not what Qwest's Counsel told them was illegal, it's the something else they were asked to do, which does appear to be the data mining mentioned in the Slate article.

Nacchio had a reputation for maverick independence, besides the ledger hackery that landed him in detention; disclosure: I was attitudinally supportive of the vanity of other telco CEOs and CIOs at the time, though I understand some golden payouts were at the cost of shareholders, and retirement funds. It was established telcos responding to the celerity of startups that was forgiveable to me, and Nacchio used the RBOCness of USWest and Qwest as a toy in the CEO prestige circuses of that era. Verizon was one of the early denier telcos when the government demand for real pipe bits began during the Bush administration; Seidenberg and Nacchio both resisted the imputations in news stories at the time, trying to reassure their customers they stayed legal. Congress has tried in its most business supportive manner to foster RBOCs' sense of stability and security amid the obviously approaching wave of disputes which tech advances clearly were going to facilitate. His rivals among the RBOCs likely experienced some rejoicing when Nacchio was detained, as his ledgers, and his bold moves to rollout a completely digital infrastructure were the envy of some of the more lumbering BabyBells. But that is an ancient occurrence, related by a formerly minorly involved person (me) yet one who read the industry literature closely; then opted to discontinue the engagement when the pecuniary returns ebbed, around the time Bush had entered office by the minority president backdoor at Scotus.

I think my hair is falling out as a result of all this info... Seriously! This information is just downright chilling.

It is true USWest and Qwest after the merger, had large holdings and stakeholder positions in latin american incumbent telcos during the melee of a little dereg, to gloss the kind friar's allegorical example. I had tried to suggest that in a long ago similar discussion, the interownership among carriers, switch manufactures, and even the semi-serious negotiations in quasiofficial regulatory bodies like the standards committees for Frame Relay, ATM, and beyond into WO's native IPworld, all considered this kind of virtual ownership. Then you get to the undersea cables and space platforms... I especially favored the concept of buying dark fiber, talk about oxymorons in marcom.


I don't think that Groundbreaker is the NSA switch room facility. I reserve the right to revise and extend that remark, though. As near as I can tell, Qwest balked at giving the government access to its U.S. networks to do what they were doing overseas. I haven't worked my way through all the CIPA documents that were released, but there are some interesting hints about how some of the secret projects that Qwest was bidding on were interrelated. I'm hoping to have some quality time with all these documents on Saturday. I plan on doing what the spooks are always afraid of, i.e. connecting the dots from disparate sources. I'll have to dig out my copy of Richard Clarke's book, too.

I'm particularly fascinated by some of the redactions that were made in these documents (agency names, bandwidth amounts, etc.) Knowing what they don't want us to know tells us a lot.

This is the filing from which I supposed that Groundbreaker is the AT&T room--because of the way they cite the AT&T case.


I thought I remembered seeing a diagram of the "coupler" that might have been used in the AT&T/NSA spying room.
I searched Wired.com where I thought I had seen it, but came up with these pages instead.

I looked just now and, unfortunately, the photo is an empty black square now.

Also, checked Wired for the AT&T whistleblower's account of the room. Here it is:

This next Wired.com article talks about the whistleblower's evidence,

Hypertext link to court documents is wrong on the next page. However, a photo of the AT&T NSA spy room and entry door pop up instead. http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2006/05/70947

Here's an interesting excerpt that makes mention of Qwest and the rest of the telecom industry:

"Another "Cut-In and Test Procedure" document dated January 24, 2003, provides diagrams of how AT&T Core Network circuits were to be run through the "splitter" cabinet (PDF 7). One page lists the circuit IDs of key Peering Links which were "cut-in" in February 2003 (PDF 8), including ConXion, Verio, XO, Genuity, Qwest, PAIX, Allegiance, AboveNet, Global Crossing, C&W, UUNET, Level 3, Sprint, Telia, PSINet and Mae West. By the way, Mae West is one of two key internet nodal points in the United States (the other, Mae East, is in Vienna, Virginia). It's not just WorldNet customers who are being spied on -- it's the entire internet."


I think they are citing the AT&T case there because it is the "other topic" that came up at the Feb. 27, 2001 meeting. Reading the documents in the way most favorable to Nacchio, I would put forth the following theory (which is what I assume his defense wanted to do):

Qwest had a handshake deal with the NSA to do Groundbreaker and was working with Clarke to do GovNet. At the Feb. 27, 2001 meeting, the NSA asked him to help spy on Americans and Nacchio said, let me talk to my lawyers. From then until sometime in 2002, the government strung him along, holding out the carrot of all these big contracts while applying the "patriotism" card as the stick. When he wouldn't play ball, they trumped up this insider trading charge which only stuck because they held back the evidence that they were promising him big contracts.

I would say that the whole thing is pretty far-fetched, but then I look at the Siegelman case and I think, sounds like the Bushies to me.

A few random thoughts:

I recall Qwest's plan was to make a fiber optic backbone connecting the East Coast the West Coast (in addition to intercontinental ocean cable). At major cities, Qwest was planning to plant a fiber optic "ring" around the city, and spokes of fiberoptic cable would enter the individual city. At the time it built its backbone, Qwest was laying an 'empty' third channel into which it could string new fiber optic cable--the stated plan was to rapidly deploy new cable when the current system grew to capacity or when new improved fiberoptic cable was invented. (Maybe NSA saw other possibilities for the empty third compartment?). Eventually Qwest announced that negotiations with so many different states and regions within states was slowing down its backbone timeline. Then money problems...

I was also looking into Global Crossing at the time (satellite communication). The company crashed and burned. Not sure what happened to its satellites, if any. Coincidence, I assume, as I thought satellite signals, when they are sent back to earth, are just as easily spied upon as cable. But if not, maybe Global Crossing's demise was an NSA godsend?

ew, re: splitting and attenuation, the distinction between fiber and copper is in the rate of attenuation of the signal. Voice (and dsl) over copper is attenuated with distance, because the copper has a different inherent resistance at different frequencies. So a signal gets "smeared" out more as the distance increases, which tends to sound like humming on the line. Phone companies fight this smearing by amplifying the signal so that the volume of your voice is loud compared to the volume of the smearing when it comes out the other end.

Light also has a differential frequency response --that is, it "smears"-- over distance as it moves through a medium. That's why the sky is blue and the sea is green. That's also why a prism can split white light into colors. If you shine short pulses of white light into the end of a fiber optic cable, and you make the cable long enough, the light will separate into a continuous spectrum by wavelength, and the "fastest" light will come out the other end first. The pulse will be of a longer duration, and it will look blue at the beginning and red at the end.

But telecom fiber optics use monochromatic laser diodes to transmit the signal, so there is effectively no smearing of the pulses over any arbitrary distance of travel through the fiber.

When you insert a tap in a copper line, there is the possibility that there will be an "echo" in the line from the tap, and in the simplest implementation, the overall strength of the signal is weakened, which makes the volume of the hum from smearing louder relative to the strength of your voice.


Think about your series of tubes. The upshot of attenuation is, if we have tubes like this:

you ------------------------------------- me

and the government adds a tube to the circuit like this:

you -------------|----------------------- me
|----------------------- Addington

If the circuit is copper, and if the change in the overall length of the wires is big enough, one of us might notice a drop in the quality of our phone calls. If we're running DSL over our copper circuit, the amount of change necessary for us to detect it get shorter, because the tolerances are higher. If we're running LOTS of communications over a copper connection, and then one day Big Time splices the circuit, there will be a noticable decrease in quality for at least some of the transmissions. People will complain, and the risk of discovery of the tap will be increased. For a given wire diameter, the service disruption will go up as the actual length of the wiretap is longer.

Cisco has a table of DSL line length vs. bandwidth (how many wobsites can fit in your tube) at
(look for table 21-1).

I don't know the answer, but we could probably do the math to figure out how much change is necessary if that's important. I think it's probably not, because it seems clear that we're talking about taps on fiber.

However, if the circuit is fiber, the tap can be effectively as long as you want without risking detection by customers due to changes in service levels, because the pulses don't spread, and a half-height pulse works essentially as well as a full-height pulse.

oop gotta go- if this is interesting I can try to write more later

Something just clicked in my head... EW made a comment higher up about the government acquiring lots of bandwidth to route telecommunications through US switches.

I was working for a little telecom company a few years ago and we had quite a bit of "dark" (unused) capacity. At the time, there was quite a surplus of bandwidth available in many areas of the country. Many telecoms were hurting pretty badly -- no one wanted the capacity. This would have been about the time Bushco went into office.

Last year I was involved in another project (different company) in which we needed to acquire some bandwidth -- and the prices were out of sight -- if you could work something out with some company to provide it.

Where I am going is that maybe our government has done a couple of big favors to the telecom industry -- it bought up all the excess capacity for purposes of its spying efforts, and drove the price up at the same time for anyone else who needed fibre optic connections.

Oh is this all interesting. Shell-creation is them, it seems. Merely one reason I think it wise not to get too distratcted by the disaster behind the curtain, militant though he be. The broader goal is to build a structure they can take with them, another advantage of privatization.

Btw, and somewhat off-topic, the Canadians think U.S. is trying to play foreign-to-foreign with real people:

U.S. demands passenger lists for sun flights

The U.S. government has angered Canada's airlines with a proposal to order them to hand over personal information about passengers who take flights that go south over U.S. airspace en route to sunny destinations.

Although the planes wouldn't take off from or land on American soil, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is proposing that Canadian carriers send passenger manifests up to 72 hours in advance of departures to popular winter escapes such as Mexico and the Caribbean.

Under the U.S. Secure Flight program, there would be the same requirement to transmit data on northbound return flights from foreign holiday destinations.

The broader goal is to “prevent certain known or suspected terrorists from boarding aircraft where they may jeopardize the lives of passengers and others,” Homeland Security's Transportation Security Agency said in its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

Seems that although the comment period ends Oct. 22, the Air Transport Association of Canada only found out about the proposed rule recently and by happenstance, as they were browsing a 37-page document in the Federal Register. I recall having heard about a predecessor to this proposal a while back, aimed at E.U., but the amount of info TSA/DHS want to collect, along with a remark from a ATAC official about getting one's plane intercepted and forced down, and now the possibility of a lot of soaking up of network switches and capacity, has freshened the air a bit.

EW, super post! Everyone else, stupendous thread!!

With help from all of you, I am finally starting to understand the issue.

I saw some of the FISA revision hearing in the Senate committee, and I did not get the impression that the Senators understand either the technology issues nor the ramifications.

I expect others have noted this before, but this discussion makes clear to me why the Bushies have constantly made vague references to "today's communications technology" as requiring updated FISA rules. This discussion makes it clear to me that the fiber optic technology really requires stronger provisions for oversight, not relaxed provisions for oversight.

Has anyone in the MSM made any of the following points yet?

1) That requests were made to the telecom companies for assistance in intercepting communications in Feb 2001, before there was any authority of any kind (not even the "War Presidency" dodge).

2) That Congress AND THE PUBLIC need to understand how the technology works [not how NSA is using it, but how it works, which should already be in the public domain, from the tenor of the comments here] before approving any new version of FISA. The Senate hearings made clear that none of the Senators understood how the changes that Goldsmith, Comey, and the whole Justice Department hierarchy reduced the traffic being monitored by two thirds. McConnell decided to disclose publicly that traffic monitored [or intercepts, or something] was reduced by two thirds as a result of the "Goldsmith variations," so now Congress must require him to make full disclosure of the reasons in closed hearings and Congress needs to release publicly a summary of the disclosures that gives the public enough information to understand what communications were being monitored before Goldsmith.

3) Since Goldsmith's replacement apparently surreptitiously reversed the consequences of Goldsmith's withdrawing the torture memos by re-instituting approval of torture "in sheep's clothing," Congress needs to find out if Goldsmith's successor also reversed the strictures that had been placed on monitoring as a result of Comey's resistance AND whether the administration has restored the pre-Goldsmith scope of wiretapping without notifying Congress.

4) The the "New technology" is being used by NSA to "reach out" to route copies of communications that trave4 on fiber optic lines anywhere in the world into dedicated NSA server(s) at each telecom company with fiber optic lines.

5) That one major control by Congress or the FISA court needs to be to require NSA to SEGREGATE the fiber optic cables carrying the copies of overseas communications from the cables carrying communications between points that are both in the United States [unless this is already being done??].

6) That the actual technical procedure that is being used to identify calls that NSA is authorized to listen to needs to be formally approved by "the Eight" members of Congress who get the most sensitive intelligence briefings and needs to be memorialized in a classified regulation [or Exec Order? or some other form?] that recites the date and circumstances of the approval by these members of Congress. No more "he said, they said" games about what the Congressional watchdogs were briefed on and whether they approved the procedures as explained to them.

EW and gang, you are all JEWELS in the resistance to these Stasi wannabes!! Help folks like me understand exactly what needs to be pounded into thick Congressional skulls. And .... PLEASE get someone to make it an Emergency Priority to get these perspectives into the MSM. I may have missed some key reports, but I do not recall seeing anything from the NYT reporters who broke this story in 2005, or from anyone else at the Times, that includes enough information to make the technical issues intelligible to political junkies with graduate & professional degrees. Certainly I don't recall anything that would explain the technical issues in a way that the average high school graduate would be able to understand.


The reason I think the switch room is Groundbreaker (aside from the description in the first filing I linked to) is that AT&T uses that name for it.

Though the documents showing the ongoing work with CSC show Verizon getting the business.

EW, et al. -

Groundbreaker privatized NSA's IT backbone and data analysis functions -- http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=389x2023410 -- after July 31, 2001, the telcos and defense contractors effectively became the NSA. Verizon, AT&T, CACI and the rest haven't merely been providing data, they've been designing, operating, and troubleshooting the whole show with just a thin patina of Agency oversight. This essential fact must be brought to the center of the debate when the Senate Bill comes forward.

These private contractors are the reason that mass surveillance, the FISA violations, and the violation of the Constitution occurred. They designed The Program. They carried it out -- apparently, even before 9/11. They made additional billions of dollars after 9/11. They aren't just innocent bystanders who cooperated with the cops.

Here's something else to consider. The routing of foreign-to-foreign lines through the US is nothing new. The line that connected the London office of the ARC, al-Qaeda's rep in the UK, to Saudi Arabia was routed through MCI 800 lines in Denver. That 1996 arrangement was made by the head of the ARC in London, who also provided the satellite phones used by bin Laden, including the one that was used by the 1998 East Africa bombers. That same individual, who remains in British protective custody, also provided equipment to the al-Qaeda communications and logistics center in Sanaa, Yemen through which the Flt. 77 hijackers made their travel arrangements to Kuala Lumpur in December 1999 to attend an AQ planning summit at which 9/11 and the USS Cole bombing were mapped out. George Tenet acknowledged that the NSA, the CIA, and "a half dozen allied intelligence services" monitored that meeting and followed al-Midhar and al-Hazmi as they proceeded on to the US, arriving at LAX on 1/15/2000. See, http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0310/S00257.htm

For years, the NSA, CIA and MI6 have had AQ mapped out by bugging their communications. But, we're all expected to believe that elint ended at the U.S. border, or that anyone would jeapordize the operational details of such a system by applying for FISA warrants?

The terms of the political discussion need to come in line with the way the technology actually works.

Read part of the court document EW linked to above. Any more information about the Fort Meade fire?

It seems fishy that Groundbreaker was created with private outsourcing in mind after a "fire" (in early 2001?) in Fort Meade destroyed NSA data. How many times in the past has NSA lost data to fires? What kind of data was irretrievably lost?

Since data is NSA's lifeblood, I have a hard time imaging someone hadn't planned for this type of data threat. If the data is completely lost it seems reasonable to assume it was deliberately lost.

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