August 31, 2015

FAIRVIEW: Collecting foreign intelligence inside the US

(Updated: January 30, 2024)

On August 15, The New York Times and Pro Publica published a story in which the big US telecommunications company AT&T was identified as a key partner of the NSA.

Interesting details about this cooperation and the cable tapping were already in the 2008 book The Shadow Factory by James Bamford, but with the new story, also a number of clarifying documents from the Snowden-trove were disclosed.

Among them are some powerpoint presentations that contain the slides which had been shown on Brazilian televion two years ago. They were first discussed on this weblog in January 2014.

Here we will combine these new and old documents to provide a detailed picture of this important collection program, that was previously misunderstood on various occasions.

The AT&T switching center at 611 Folsom Street, San Francisco,
where there's a cable access under the FAIRVIEW program
(Photo via Wikimapia - Click to enlarge)


At NSA, the division Special Source Operations (SSO) is responsible for collecting data from backbone telephone and internet cables. For that, SSO also cooperates with private telecommunication providers under the following four programs, which are collectively referred to as Upstream Collection:

- BLARNEY (collection under FISA authority, since 1978)
- FAIRVIEW (cooperation with AT&T, since 1985)
- STORMBREW (cooperation with Verizon, since 2001)
- OAKSTAR (cooperation with 7 other telecoms, since 2004)*

Before the new revelations, it was often assumed that BLARNEY was the program for NSA's cooperation with AT&T. The Wall Street Journal reported this in August 2013, based upon former officials, saying that BLARNEY was established for capturing foreign communications at or near over a dozen key international fiber-optic cable landing points. This assumption was also followed by Glenn Greenwald in his book No Place to Hide from May 2014.

In a letter to Cryptome, James Atkinson suggests that BLARNEY was the covername for cooperation with AT&T since 1978, and that after the Bell break-up, BLARNEY stayed active for FISA collection, and the new covername FAIRVIEW was created for the "new" AT&T. One new slide however, shows that BLARNEY actually encompasses all (over 30) companies that are cooperating for FISA collection, including of course AT&T and Verizon.


The assumption that BLARNEY was the program for AT&T left room for speculation about the purpose and scope of the FAIRVIEW program.

For example, former NSA official and whistleblower Thomas Drake told in July 2013 that FAIRVIEW was for tapping into the world's intercontinental fiber-optic cables and "to own the Internet". According to Drake it was an umbrella program with other programs, like BLARNEY, underneath it.

Similarly speculative was Bill Binney, also a former NSA official who left and became a whistleblower in 2001. On multiple occasions he said that a map showing the FAIRVIEW tapping points proofs that NSA collects "content and metadata on US citizens" because those collection points are spread across the country:

Slide from an NSA presentation as shown on the Brazilian
television show Fantástico on September 8, 2013

The new revelations by The New York Times and Pro Publica have now shown that the explanations by both Drake and Binney were misleading: FAIRVIEW is neither an overarching internet tapping program, nor is it collecting communications of US citizens.

Cover names

Closest to the truth came NSA historian Matthew Aid, who in an article by The Washington Post from October 2013, said that STORMBREW is the NSA alias used for Verizon, while FAIRVIEW stands for AT&T.

That's the right connection, although STORMBREW and FAIRVIEW aren't the cover names for these companies themselves, but the code words for the programs under which NSA cooperates with these telecoms.

The cover name for AT&T itself (at least under the BLARNEY program) is probably LITHIUM and for Verizon ARTIFICE. Cover names for other, but yet unidentified US telecoms are ROCKSALT, SERENADE, STEELKNIGHT and WOLFPOINT - their actual names are in the Exceptionally Controlled Information (ECI) compartment WHIPGENIE (WPG).

Although Snowden seems to have had no access to that ECI compartment, reporters for Pro Publica were able to identify both companies based upon various details found in the NSA documents about the STORMBREW and FAIRVIEW programs.


Since 2022, the NSA admits the cooperation with telecom provides on its website, which says:

"Under all FISA and FAA programs, the government compels one or more providers to assist NSA with the collection of information responsive to the foreign intelligence need. The government employs covernames to describe its collection by source. Some that have been revealed in the press recently include FAIRVIEW, BLARNEY, OAKSTAR, and LITHIUM. While some have tried to characterize the involvement of such providers as separate programs, that is not accurate. The role of providers compelled to provide assistance by the FISC is identified separately by the Government as a specific facet of the lawful collection activity."

  Legal authorities

The actual purpose of FAIRVIEW can be learned from an NSA presentation, which clearly says the program is for collecting communications of foreign targets at collection points that are inside the United States. Two other excerpts say that FAIRVIEW is also used for current and future "cyber plans", which probably include searching for malware signatures.

All this happens under three different legal authorities, and for each there's a different SIGINT Activity Designator (SIGAD):

Traditional FISA:
- Communications of persons being agents of foreign powers or connected to international terrorist groups
- Individualized warrant needed from the FISA Court
- Internet traffic only (SIGAD: US-984T)

Section 702 FAA:
- Communications of foreigners/with one end foreign
- Must be justified under an annual FAA Certification
- All kinds of internet traffic (SIGAD: US-984XR)
- Telephone traffic (SIGAD: US-984X2)

Transit Authority:
- Communications with both ends foreign
- No external approval required
- Internet traffic: only e-mail (SIGAD: US-990)
- Telephony: according to "Directory ONMR" (SIGAD: US-990)

For collection under Transit Authority, the presentation says that communications "must be confirmed foreign-to-foreign", which is ensured by filters at the actual tapping points (see stage 1 of the dataflow, down below).

These filters only forward authorized traffic to the selection engines, which then pick out the communications that match with strong selectors, like e-mail addresses, phone numbers, etc. These selectors are entered into the system by analysts using the tasking tools UTT, CADENCE (for internet) and OCTAVE (for telephony).

Examples of such selected, authorized traffic can be seen in a number of slides that were shown in a Fantástico report from July 9, 2013. They are from a presentation that has not yet been released. These slides contain maps, which show the amount of internet traffic to countries like North Korea, Russia, Pakistan and Iran, as seen on March 4-5, 2012.

Scroll here > 

In the first slide we see for example internet traffic (DNI) to Pakistan, which has been determined to be foreign-to-foreign and may therefore be collected under Transit Authority. As such, front-end filters forwarded this traffic to the selection engines for further filtering.

The slide below has a map showing the internet traffic to Pakistan, which is eligible for collection under FAA authority:

The next slide shows a list of "Top 20 Pakistani domains (.pk)" which where tracked between February 15, 2012 and March 11, 2012:

A map representing "1 Day view of authorized (FAA ONLY) DNI traffic volumes to North Korea within FAIRVIEW environment", which means internet traffic which is authorized for collection under FAA authority:

Next is a list op "Top 20 North Korean domains (.kp)" which where tracked between February 15, 2012 and March 11, 2012. Note that only two websites generate notable traffic, all other have less than 1 Kbps:

A map showing internet traffic to Iran, which is eligible for collection under FAA authority:

A map showing internet traffic to Russia, which is authorized for collection under Transit authority:

Determining what traffic is foreign is done by filtering based upon telephone country codes and internet IP addresses. For telephony this is quite reliable, but particularly for internet traffic, the speaker's notes for another NSA presentation admit that it is difficult to proof the foreigness. Therefore, it is occasionally discovered that one end of an intercept is actually in the US, which then has to be reported as a "domestic incident".

In June 2018, The Intercept published a range of entries from the NSA's internal SSO newsletter. According to an entry from September 10, 2012, SSO started to deploy new One End Foreign (1EF) IP address filters for Section 702FAA Upstream collection. These filters replaced the more limited FAA IP Subnet filters and were sourced from EVILOLIVE, IP geolocation reference source, foreign IP list. The new filters ensured "compliance with FAA collection authorities, while opening the collection aperture to maximize collection opportunities."

Tapping points

One of the most interesting new documents is an NSA presentation from 2010 about the Corporate Partner Accesses, which has the map for the FAIRVIEW program with all the domestic dots, but this time with the explaining legend:

From the legend in combination with the dots on the map, we learn that under the FAIRVIEW program, NSA at that time had access points at the following parts of the AT&T network:

- Peering Link Router Complexes (8)
- VoIP Router Complexes (26, planned: 0)
- Hub VoIP Router Complex (1, planned: 30)
- Program Cable Stations (9, planned: 7)
- Non-Program Cable Stations (0)
- RIMROCK 4ESS Circuit Switches (16)
- Program Processing Site (1)

One important thing is that most of the markers inside the US do not represent traditional cable tapping points like those along the borders, but are current and planned accesses to Voice over IP communications. Here's some explanation about the other types of access points too:

Peering Link Router Complex
NSA has 8 access points at AT&T Peering Link Router Complexes. According to Pro Publica they correspond to AT&T's Service Node Routing Complexes (SNRCs), where other communication providers connect to the AT&T backbone through OC-192 and 10GE fiber-optic cables. For NSA, this means they can catch traffic from those other providers too. This backbone access is codenamed SAGURA or SAGUARO. The 8 facilities are in:

- Seattle
- San Francisco
  - Los Angeles
- Dallas
  - Chicago
- Atlanta
  - New York City
- Washington DC

It was this kind of access point that was/is in Room 641A in San Francisco, as was exposed by Mark Klein during a lawsuit in 2006. Klein told that the equipment in room 641a was installed early 2003, which could fit the turning on of "a new DNI (Digital Network Intelligence) collection capability" in September of that year.

VoIP Router Complex
The largest number of active access points, 26, are at VoIP Router complexes, which are apparently used for routing voice communications over IP networks, like the internet. No new accesses of this kind were plannend, but expansion seems to be in the next category:

Hub VoIP Router Complex
In the map from 2010 we see only one active access at a Hub VoIP Router Complex, which is somewhere near New York City (maybe in Florham Park, NJ, where AT&T has a data warehouse and its laboratory?). Access to VoIP communications was clearly seen as something that needed expansion, as 30 locations are marked as a planned access point. Unfortunately, no documents have yet been released about this effort.

In June 2018, The Intercept published a range of entries from the NSA's internal SSO newsletter. According to an entry from January 28, 2011, FAIRVIEW began delivery of "Carrier Grade Corporate VoIP (SIP protocol) under Transit Authority, which became necessary as communications networks converge and move beyond PSTN." This "new capability rests on a large and complex system which collects, processes, authorizes, and selects calls using both SIP and H.323 VOIP protocol technology from 26 separate IP backbone router nodes [...] A large component of this eligible traffic is to/from high interest areas such as Pakistan."

Map of the US internet backbone network of AT&T in 2009
(Source: AT&T brochure - Click to enlarge)

Program Cable Station
At the time of the presentation, there were 9 AT&T cable stations with a tapping facility, and another 7 for which that was planned. For an article on Pro Publica, it was found out that 9 of these active and planned stations in the continental US correspond to cable landing stations owned by AT&T.
There are also two active and five planned accesses at cable landing points which are probably located in Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Some of the active facilities are in:

- Nedonna Beach, Oregon
- Point Arena, California
- San Luis Obispo, California
- Tuckerton, New Yersey
- West Palm Beach, Florida

RIMROCK 4ESS Circuit Switch
These facilities refer to a 4ESS switch, which is used for long-distance telephone switching. Approximately 100 of these switches are operated by AT&T, but according to the map, only 16 of them have a tapping facility codenamed TOPROCK. Except for two, they are situated along the US border, so seem to be for collecting (the metadata of) in- and outgoing phone calls. These sites appear to be in or near:
- Seattle
- Spokane
- Sacramento
- Los Angeles
  - San Diego
- Albuquerque
- San Antonio
- Lansing
  - Atlanta
- Pittsburgh
- Buffalo

  - Kingston
- Hartford (2)
- New York City (2)

Program Processing Site
Finally, there's one centralized Program Processing Site in a SCIF, which is codenamed PINECONE. The map indicates that it's situated somewhere near the AT&T cable landing station of Tuckerton in New Jersey.

The AT&T intercontinental cable landing station in Tuckerton, New Jersey,
which got a fake facade when residences were build around it.
(Photo: Bing maps - Click to enlarge)


Seen for the first time is an NSA presentation from 2012 with five diagrams showing the dataflow for the various collection methods under the FAIRVIEW program. There are diagrams for:

- Transit internet content (US-990)
- Transit internet metadata (US-990)
- Transit telephony metadata and SMS (US-990)
- FISA e-mail content (US-984T)
- FISA internet content (US-984T)

Update: More dataflow diagrams were published in November 2016

There are no diagrams for FAIRVIEW collection under the authority of section 702 FAA.

Dataflow for internet content collected under the
FAIRVIEW program under Transit Authority
(Click to enlarge)

This diagram appeared to be remarkably similar
to the one based upon the information provided by Mark Klein

These diagrams show that processing the data from tha various collection points takes places in 3 different stages at 3 different locations:

1. Access and processing at the partner company
2. Site processing in a central secure facility
3. Processing and storage at NSA headquarters

Here's a description of what roughly happens during these 3 stages:

1. Access and processing at the partner company

In the first stage, AT&T provides access to internet and telephone cables and does some filtering and processing right at the various tapping points:

- For the internet collection, we see that the traffic is split at the switches where AT&T's own accesses, as well as peering partner's cables connect to the AT&T Common Back Bone (CBB). This duplicated traffic goes to one or more routers, where "Foreign IP Filtering" takes place to select foreign and discard domestic traffic.

Previously there was a "heavily IP filtered, bulk forwarded collection of a tiny portion of the typical Terabyte or more SSO access". Since January 2011, the NSA replaced the old equipment by Extended TURMOIL (E-TML or ETML) systems which consist of commercially available, unclassified hardware for filtering and selection at the company's access points, while "a range of security countermeasures deal with both Partner OPSEC concerns and to allow the hosting of sensitive software or selector information." The ETMLs also reduce the amount of data to be sent back to the SCIFs where the data are processed.

These data are sent over to the central processing facility of the second stage, probably over OC-48 links of 2,4 Gbit/s. The same happens with traffic from other cable access points codenamed MESA.

It was this kind of installation that Mark Klein discovered in Room 641A in the SBC building in San Francisco in 2006. Many people assumed that in this way, NSA was able to store everything that runs over those cables, including American's communications, but now we know that filters ensure that only foreign traffic is sorted out for further processing.

Klein also testified that in room 641A there was equipment from Narus, which can be used to sessionize and filter data streams, but this is not seen in the diagrams. Maybe, after the exposure of room 641A, NSA moved that kind of equipment from the actual AT&T tapping points to the centralized processing facility codenamed PINECONE.

According to an NSA glossary, there are tens of thousands access links to the AT&T Common BackBone, which "would make 100% coverage prohibitively expensive". Therefore, NSA's Operations and Discovery Division (ODD) worked with AT&T to rank the access routers, and (only?) 8 router uplinks were deemed of high SIGINT interest and subsequently nominated for monitoring.

- Telephone metadata under Transit Authority are collected from Foreign Gateway Switches and "ATPs", by a "CNI [Calling Number Identification] & Call Processor" in facilities codenamed TOPROCK. These metadata are also sent over to the central processing facility of the second stage.

One of the doors to room 641A in the building of AT&T in San Francisco,
where there's an access point to the AT&T Common BackBone

2. Site processing in a central secure facility

The second stage comprises processing which takes place at a central location, in a highly secured building, a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF), which for the FAIRVIEW program is codenamed PINECONE. The equipment there is partly controlled by the partner company and partly by NSA.

Processing data from the many tapping points under the FAIRVIEW program at one central facility is only possible when already large amounts have discarded during the first stage. The remaining data stream is probably sent (unencrypted) to PINECONE over dedicated links within the AT&T network.

- Internet data arrive at IP Routers (IPRs) and via IP Processors (IPPs) go to an "Information Media Manager Distribution Box". Internet metadata then go directly to MAILORDER. This device sends them to NSA headquarters (NSA-W), where they are received by another MAILORDER box.

Until now, MAILORDER was known as a tool for transferring data, but now it becomes clear that MAILORDER is also the device that encrypts the data so they can be transmitted safely from the PINECONE facility to NSA headquarters.

Before going to MAILORDER, internet content has to pass another box codenamed COURIERSKILL/CLEARSIGHT. This device also gets an input from the CADENCE tasking tool at NSA headquarters: the selectors for filtering.

Therefore, COURIERSKILL/CLEARSIGHT is the device that sorts out the communications that match the e-mail addresses and other identifiers as requested by NSA analysts. For e-mail collection under FISA authority, this filtering is done (directly) by XKEYSCORE.

After passing GATEKEEP, which could be some kind of access control system, the filtered internet content of interest goes to MAILORDER to be sent over to Fort Meade.

- Telephone metadata and SMS messages also pass an "Information Media Manager Distribution Box", which is connected to an unknown device marked NGTPD. Via MAILORDER, these data too are sent over to NSA headquarters.

3. Processing and storage at NSA headquarters

In the third and final stage, which is at NSA headquarters, the data from the central processing facility PINECONE arrive at a MAILORDER box, which is on the FAIRVIEW Local Area Network (LAN) codenamed HIGHDECIBEL.

From this LAN, the data are sent to NSA's core corporate network, again via secure MAILORDER transmission, to be stored in the various and meanwhile well-known databases, like PINWALE, MAINWAY, MARINA, FASCIA and DISHFIRE.

- Internet content first passes FISHWAY, which is a "Data Batching & Distribution System", and then SCISSORS. The latter was first seen in the earliest PRISM slides, and is a "Data Scanning, Formatting & Distribution System", as we learn from this diagram.

Raw internet content and e-mails collected under FISA authority are stored in the RAGTIME partition of the PINWALE database and are classified as TOP SECRET//SI-ECI RGT//REL [...].

- Internet metadata first pass FALLOUT, which is an internet metadata ingest processor/database, while telephone metadata and SMS go to FASCIA, which has the same function for this type of data.

Overview of the numbers of data collected under the FAIRVIEW program
(Click to enlarge)


According to one of the newly disclosed NSA documents, the internet access under the FAIRVIEW program was initially used only for collecting e-mail messages. In 2003, this resulted in more than one million e-mails a day being forwarded to the keyword selection system at NSA headquarters.

This number had risen to 5 million a day in 2012, which remained after applying some kind of "3 Swing Algorithm" to 60 million foreign-to-foreign e-mail messages that were captured by FAIRVIEW every day under Transit Authority - according to the speaker's notes for an NSA presentation from 2012.

Again we see a huge amount of data passing (which in de documents is called "captured" by) the FAIRVIEW tapping points, but that filters only select a small part which is then forwarded to the NSA for further selection. The 5 million e-mail messages a day in 2012 made 150 million a month and 1,8 billion a year.


The most recent numbers of the data collected under FAIRVIEW can be derived from a chart from the NSA's BOUNDLESSINFORMANT tool, which was published in May 2014 as part of Glenn Greenwald's book No Place to Hide:

During the one month period between December 10, 2012 and January 8, 2013, exactly 6.142.932.557 metadata records were counted for collection under Transit Authority, which for the FAIRVIEW program is denoted by the SIGAD US-990.

This means the numbers for FAIRVIEW collection under FISA and section 702 FAA authority are not included in this chart. But in those cases, only communications related to specific e-mail addresses or similar identifiers are collected, which results in far smaller numbers: according to a 2011 FISA Court ruling (pdf), Upstream collection under section 702 FAA resulted in just 22 million "internet communications" each year.

The over 6 billion records for FAIRVIEW account for only 3,75% of the total number of data the NSA collects through its cable tapping programs, which is remarkably small given the large number of access points at major internet cables and switches.

Tech details

In the lower part, the pie chart shows that under Transit Authority, roughly the following number of records were counted for FAIRVIEW:

- 87% or 5,3 billion: Personal Communications Services (PCS, cell phone, etc)
- 2% or 122 million: Mobile communications-over-IP (MOIP)
- 8% or 488 million: Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN)
- 3% or 183 million: Internet communications (DNI)

As reflected by the bar chart, the overwhelming majority of data come from foreign-to-foreign telephone communications, mostly from cell phones. Because there's no dataflow diagram for the content of phone calls, it's possible that this is only telephone metadata and SMS messages.

Only about 3% comes from foreign-to-foreign e-mail messages, for which some 183 million metadata records were counted. This number comes close to the roughly 150 million e-mails a month that were processed in 2012, which could indicate that one metadata record equals one e-mail message.

The technology used to process 97% of these data is called FAIRVIEWCOTS, which could be a combination of the program's codename and the abbreviation COTS, which stands for Commercial-Of-The-Shelf equipment. Only nearly 3%, so probably the e-mail traffic, is processed by a hitherto unknown system codenamed KEELSON. Finally, a tiny number also went through SCISSORS.

Product reports

After the data have been collected and stored, analysts go through it, looking for useful intelligence information and put that in so-called product reports. A slide from a 2012 presentation about SSO's Corporate Portfolio, shows the Top Ten programs based upon the product reports that were prepaired during the fiscal year 2010-2011:

We see that with 7357 product reports, US-990, which is FAIRVIEW collection under Transit Authority, ranks as the second most productive source. However, 4 times more reports came from collection under section 702 FAA, which is not only derived from PRISM, but also from the STORMBREW and FAIRVIEW programs.

Although below the program ranking first, there are not very big differences in the numbers of reports, the chart still shows how focused FAIRVIEW collection must be: the 3,75% of the data it pulls in, is apparently so useful that it results in a big number of product reports.

From a different presentation, we have a similar diagram with the numbers for the fiscal year 2009-2010:


The FAIRVIEW map also mentions a close partnership with the FBI. Under the PRISM program it's the FBI that actually picks up the data at the various internet companies, but for Upstream collection, like under FAIRVIEW, that's not the case: here the NSA has a direct relationship with the telecoms.

This leaves the option that the FBI (just like the DEA and the CIA) is also a so-called customer of the program, meaning that the Bureau can request the collection of certain target's communications and access some of the data that NSA collected under FAIRVIEW.

Domestic metadata

The newly disclosed documents about FAIRVIEW also provide some new details about the bulk collection of domestic metadata, which is considered to be one of the most controversial activities of the NSA. Somewhat unexpected is that for AT&T this happens under FAIRVIEW, instead of a separate program.

Internet metadata

An NSA document from 2003 seems to be about bulk internet data. It says that FAIRVIEW also collected "metadata, or data about the network and the communications it carries" and that for September 2003 alone, "FAIRVIEW captured several trillion metadata records - of which more than 400 billion were selected for processing or storage".

This doesn't really sound like AT&T handed over bulk metadata indiscriminately, but it would fit how it's described in the 2009 STELLARWIND-report (in which, according to Pro Publica, AT&T is mentioned as "Company A") about the collection efforts under the President's Surveillance Program (PSP):

"In order to be a candidate for PSP IP metadata collection, data links were first vetted to ensure that the preponderance of communications was from foreign sources, and that there was a high probability of collecting al Qaeda (and affiliate) communications. NSA took great care to ensure that metadata was produced against foreign, not domestic, communications"

It seems that at that time, AT&T did hand over massive amounts of internet metadata from its domestic infrastructure, but also made sure these were not about American communications.

The 2003 document says these metadata were flowing to MAINWAY, which appears to be not only for telephone records, but "NSA's primary tool for conducting metadata analysis" in general.* One of the dataflow diagrams also shows that internet metadata first flow into MAINWAY, and from there to MARINA, which is the repository for internet metadata:

Dataflow for internet metadata collected under the
FAIRVIEW program under Transit Authority
(Click to enlarge)

Telephone metadata

About bulk telephone metadata there's an NSA document from 2011. It says that as of September 2011, FAIRVIEW began handing over "1.1 billion cellular records a day in addition to the 700M records delivered currently" under the Business Record (BR) FISA authorization, which refers to section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act.

It was already known that the major US telecoms handed over their metadata records of landline telephone calls, but here we see that AT&T also started doing so for cell phone calls.

And for the very first time we also have some numbers now: the total of 1,8 billion a day provided by AT&T make 54 billion a month and about 650 billion phone records a year. For comparison, in 2012, NSA's regular foreign collection resulted in a total number of 135 billion telephone records a month and 1,6 trillion a year.

The mobile phone metadata provided by AT&T were fed into the MAINWAY database to be used for contact chaining in order to "detect previously unknown terrorist threats in the United States". Before these records were handed over to NSA, AT&T stripped off the location data, to comply with the FISA Court orders, that don't allow those data to be collected.

Apparently Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile US don't strip off these location data, so their cell phone records cannot be handed over to NSA, which therefore only gets less than 30% of the domestic telephone metadata.


The reports by Pro Publica and The New York Times stress AT&T's "extreme willingness to help" the NSA, which some people consider bad and scary. But maybe this very close cooperation helps to make data collection as targeted and focused as possible. Apart from the domestic metadata collection under BR-FISA, the relatively small numbers of data collected under the FAIRVIEW program, appear to contain a lot of valuable foreign intelligence information.

The fear was that under FAIRVIEW, large numbers of American's communications were sucked up by the NSA. However, the documents and diagrams show that there are filter systems that for collection under Transit Authority only let foreign-to-foreign communications through. Collection under section 702 FAA is already about foreign targets outside the US, while under FISA authority there's an individualized FISA Court order.

Interesting questions that remain are about the function of the rapidly growing number of VoIP collection points, as well as about the scope of the cyber security effort, and how in these fields, NSA tries to protect the rights of American citizens.


On June 25, 2018, the website The Intercept published a long piece in which eight AT&T facilities, internally designated as "Service Node Routing Complexes" (SNRCs), were identified as being the eight "peering link router complexes" seen on the map of the NSA's FAIRVIEW program:

- 420 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, California
- 611 Folsom Street, San Francsco, California
- 51 Peachtree Center Avenue, Atlanta, Georgia
- 10 South Canal Street, Chicago, Illinois
- 30 E Street Southwest, Washington, DC
- 811 10th Avenue, New York, New York
- 1122 3rd Avenue, Seattle, Washington
- 4211 Bryan Street, Dallas, Texas

Interestingly, six of these locations were already on a list of "Possible domestic NSA interception points", provided by an anonymous source and presented by hacktivist Jacob Appelbaum during a "Surveillance Teach-In" on April 21, 2012, which means more than a year before the start of the Snowden revelations:

Besides the locations identified by The Intercept, Appelbaum's list mentions two additional possible tapping locations:

- 2651 Olive Street, Saint Louis, Missouri
- 12976 Hollenberg Drive, Bridgeton, Missouri

Links and sources
- Statement before the House Committee on the Judiciary on the FISA Amendments Act (pdf) (2016)
- Bruce Schneier: NSA's Partnership with AT&T
- Matthew Green: The network is hostile
- What’s a Little (or a Lot) Cooperation Among Spies?
- AT&T Pulled Cell Location for Its “Mobility Cell Data”
- AT&T Whistle-Blower's Evidence
- History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications


Fantum said...

Quoting: "The new revelations by The New York Times and Pro Publica have now shown that the explanations by both Drake and Binney were misleading: FAIRVIEW is neither an overarching internet tapping program, nor is it collecting communications of US citizens."

I spoke directly to Thomas Drake about the state of USSID 18 post 9/11, his involvement, and his concerns. I have not met Binney but listened to his talks.

I do not think they would mislead anyone with intent with what they know.

One can begin to depend on journalistic entities(NYT) with full access to the Snowden Files - while knowing they cooperate vet/coordinate/redact/their analysis with DNI/NSA/DIA/et al and publish for profit 'revelations, or believe those that have risked and suffered much by telling what they could.

I don't believe their is any gain in misleading that you are somehow attaching to those that were telling the truth about what has happened with these systems. Drilling down and providing some minimizing analysis of a codeword system and saying well FAIRVIEW is not as evil or as expansive is a technical besmirchment.
If all of the files in the possession of the NYT, Greenwald, Poitras etc were available to Drake and Binney or any of us that have actually worked inside this system and been accountable under the former laws of the NSA (such as USSID 18 pre-911) then we would see that there was no "misleading". What is clear is that the NSA collects "content and metadata on US citizens" and this is part of the proof.
If I show most people a long tube with a brush on the end, they would know it is a tool for a vacuum cleaner to reach the top of the wall. There may be no vacuum visible but they would recognize it clearly. Only a very small groups of citizens have or had access to these programs and information and when Drake or Binney need proof to support the actuality of a massive electronic and social vaccum, legal restriction from the oaths they took and their own place in the compartmentalized intelligence black hole make it illegal to provide a better depiction

P/K said...

As far as I know, Drake and Binney had no access to the Snowden-trove, they saw the same documents we all know from the various publications. The initial material about FAIRVIEW was incomplete: just a number of slides from presentations we only now have in full.

But despite those holes, both Drake and Binney speculated, and interpreted the slides in the worst possible way. Just like Snowden and Greenwald did, so at that time their interpretations seemed to fit the general narrative.

As was often the case with the Snowden-stories, the original documents and/or later revelations showed that those grave accusations and assumptions were not according to the facts that can be found in the original documents.

Also take into consideration that the FAIRVIEW program started in 1985, so it was operational during the time Drake and Binney worked at NSA. And as they both worked there for quite some time (much longer than Snowden), it seems likely they must have heard or briefed about what FAIRVIEW was about: cooperation with AT&T in order to collect foreign intelligence.

That's rather simple, but is not how they presented the program in the media. It's true that FAIRVIEW rapidly expanded after 9/11, but then Drake and Binney also left the NSA, so they couldn't know any new details anymore.

Instead of speculating about those slides, it would have been better when they had said that they didn't know what for example that map actually depicts.

All the documents published so far clearly show that FAIRVIEW is aimed and focused at collecting communications of foreign targets (and some spies and terrorists inside the US). This is not what NSA or the government publicly said, but what is in their own internal documents that were never meant to become public.

Of course communications with Americans can be pulled in when they are or have been in contact with legitimate foreign suspects (the so-called incidental collection), but that is inevitable when it comes to (signals) intelligence: targets will always have contacts with innocent people too.

Fantum said...

Prior to 2002, incidental collection of information from or concerning US Persons was a very serious matter when it occurred. Such information would have been destroyed within 24 hours - unless a compelling need for the information was determined.

When the controls (USSID 18) for that system were "shredded", the existing systems and methods were lashed together and expanded and the Snowden FAIRVEIW files, as well as others, were easily exploited for collection of all internal communications of US Persons. I am glad that Drake and Binney clearly pointed out the extent and systems involved. I take a lessor view of journalists working with the very government programs and agencies they are trying to "expose".

Less than 1% of the files Snowden provided to various sources have been released by those that have them. Given the current rate of release it will take at least 20 years before we see them all. The Government attempt to minimize and support the "we only collect against foreign targets" has long ago been shown to be BS.

P/K said...

With Snowden we had the biggest leak of NSA documents ever, and over a dozen journalists worked on them for over two years, including people, like Greenwald and Appelbaum, who vigorously oppose NSA's spying activities and have no mercy with the US government at all.

But even with that enormous effort, no really grave abuses were found so far. One can disagree about the scope of some programs, but they are all within the existing legal framework and the documents show that NSA took great care protecting the rights of US citizens.

Of course you are free to believe whatever Drake and Binney said, or what Snowden said, but fact is that on many points their statements are exaggerated and not supported by the original internal documents of the NSA itself.

Even if the NSA would collect data on US citizens, then what would be the big problem? NSA cannot arrest you, so they have to play that via the FBI. Then the bureau would bring on some cases and hide they got the leads from the NSA. That probably already happens, but is that really that big of an issue?

And if so, then you should blame the FBI, because that's the agency responsible for domestic security and apparently needs data from the NSA to bring some people to court. If you are concerned about your civil rights, then look at the FBI. Leave those NSA conspiracies for Hollywood.

Fantum said...

Thank-you for your comments as well as your consistently brilliant blog. I have spent many nice time visiting your country and miss Europe very much. I returned to the United States on this day in 2001 thinking the world was safer for Democracy, Liberty, and Freedom. 2 days later that all changed as I realized that the tools we used to assist in maintaining that security would be turned against anyone and everyone.

The directed, controlled, and deliberate effort to smash independence and liberty IS a conspiracy and one only exposed and shattered by the efforts of ordinary citizens to understand the nature of the invasiveness , challenge the systems of abuse, and change the attitude of the controlling agencies.

Although we may disagree on the level of concern, I appreciate your work to highlight the complex and obscure nature of the environment I spent so many years working in as a professional serving my country.

Again, best regards to you and yours and continued success with your blog.

anna2 said...
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In Dutch: Meer over het wetsvoorstel voor de Tijdelijke wet cyberoperaties