The United States National Security Agency and AT&T have a close intelligence relationship, with the second-largest mobile service provider in the country operating a network of secretive facilities where the regulator is granted access to raw data passing through its network, The Intercept reports, citing its investigative efforts which uncovered a number of classified documents, as well as interviews with various sources. The Dallas, Texas-based telecom giant presently has eight U.S. data facilities that the NSA deems highly valuable due to the volume of information they deliver to it.
The buildings in question are part of the NSA’s operation FAIRVIEW, a secretive surveillance operation started in 1985. The spying initiative is mainly targeted at foreign nationals and their phone records, emails, internet browsing history, and other information obtainable by the wireless carrier. The operation is global in nature and was previously detailed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, whereas The Washington Post already identified AT&T as its key partner half a decade ago. The telecom giant’s eight stateside facilities enrolled in the spying network are code-named SAGUARO, with that term being the name of a giant cactus native to Mexico and Southwestern U.S.
AT&T collects data and analyzes it with the NSA to rank it by its intelligence value in bulks then forwards it to a “centralized processing facility” internally referred to as PINECONE which is located somewhere in New Jersey, as per the same report. The data center in question is jointly operated by the NSA and AT&T, being tasked with identifying the most critical information and forwarding it to the agency’s Fort Meade, Maryland-based headquarters, the investigation suggests. There, the regulator employs systems code-named MARINA and MAINWAY to go through metadata automatically, whereas NSA agents can also search through it manually by using a tool called XKEYSCORE. The NSA has jurisdiction to intercept any kind of communication traversing American territory, even if its point of origin and final destination are outside of the U.S. The stateside intelligence community recently pressured the network operator to drop its planned retail partnership with Huawei over national security concerns, seeking to separate China’s largest telecom giant from its critical wireless partner following years of tensions over Huawei’s ownership and allegiances.