"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."
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."