Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Pedestrians walk past the AT&T Corp. West Coast flagship store in San Francisco, California. (Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

'Most Important Surveillance Story You Will See for Years': Report Reveals How ATT Buildings Serve as Secret Hubs for NSA Spying

"AT&T has bent over backwards to help the U.S. government spy on essentially all internet traffic."

Jake Johnson

"The most important surveillance story you will see for years just went online, revealing how AT&T became the internet's biggest enemy, secretly collaborating against its customers and partners to destroy your privacy."

"It's eye-opening and ominous the extent to which this is happening right here on American soil."
—Elizabeth Goitein, Brennan Center for Justice

That was how whistleblower and privacy advocate Edward Snowden reacted to the publication of an explosive story by The Intercept on Monday, which reveals for the first time how "fortress-like" AT&T buildings located in eight major American cities have played a central role in a massive National Security Agency (NSA) spying program "that has for years monitored billions of emails, phone calls, and online chats passing across U.S. territory."

"It's eye-opening and ominous the extent to which this is happening right here on American soil," Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, told The Intercept in an interview. "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."

The Intercept's detailed report—based on a large body of evidence that includes public records, classified NSA documents, and interviews with former AT&T employees—shows how the telecom giant has willingly helped the NSA collect the data of its own customers and those of other companies, thanks to its "unique relationships with other phone and internet providers."

According to Intercept reporters Ryan Gallagher and Henrik Moltke, who bylined Monday's story, eight AT&T facilities—known as "peering sites"—in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. "serve a specific function, processing AT&T customers' data and also carrying large quantities of data from other internet providers."

"The 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," Gallagher and Moltke write. "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."

The report continues:

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 one 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.

Fight for the Future (FFTF), an open internet advocacy group, reacted with alarm to The Intercept's reporting on Monday, writing on Twitter, "AT&T has bent over backwards to help the U.S. government spy on essentially all internet traffic."

"Giant telecom companies aren't just "anti-consumer," they're actively helping authoritarian governments and pushing for policies that endanger free expression," FFTF concluded.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'Protest Works': Cheers as Shell Signals Pullout of Cambo Oil Field Project

"We have to see the end of North Sea projects as well as all new fossil fuel extraction: There is no future in them."

Julia Conley ·


Groups Say Congress Should Reject Biden's Harmful Sentencing Proposal on Fentanyl-Related Drugs

"The facts don't support the argument that a harsh law enforcement approach, such as permanent classwide scheduling of fentanyl-related substances, will curb drug distribution, sale, and use."

Andrea Germanos ·


AOC Laments How Accused Predator Kavanaugh Ready to Rule on 'Whether to Legalize Forced Birth in the US'

The congresswoman suggested Justice Brett Kavanaugh should recuse himself from Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, considering multiple sexual assault allegations against him that the FBI failed to investigate.

Julia Conley ·


Biden Rebuked for Plan to Implement 'Even Worse' Version of Trump's 'Remain in Mexico' Policy

"The Biden administration must stop hiding behind a flawed court order to justify" the abuse of asylum seekers, said one immigrant rights advocate.

Kenny Stancil ·


Progressive Coalition to Schumer: No More Cuts to Popular Build Back Better Bill

"Now is the moment to do everything in your power to ensure that we get the best, most inclusive, reconciliation bill possible across the finish line."

Jessica Corbett ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo