Update: You can find a detailed analysis of claims made in the article here.
The Wall Street Journal's front page today contains an important article that confirms key elements of EFF's suit against AT&T. Officials quoted in the article acknowledge a massive domestic spying operation run by the NSA, and confirm that the program includes the wholesale copying of entire data streams by the telecoms, as well as the existence of a "domestic network of hubs" to coordinate the spying in different cities.
The Terrorist Surveillance Program has spurred 38 lawsuits against companies. Current and former intelligence officials say telecom companies' concern comes chiefly because they are giving the government unlimited access to a copy of the flow of communications, through a network of switches at U.S. telecommunications hubs that duplicate all the data running through it. It isn't clear whether the government or telecom companies control the switches, but companies process some of the data for the NSA, the current and former officials says.
Two former officials familiar with the data-sifting efforts said they work by starting with
some sort of lead, like a phone number or Internet address. In partnership with the FBI,
the systems then can track all domestic and foreign transactions of people associated with
that item -- and then the people who associated with them, and so on, casting a gradually wider net. An intelligence official described more of a rapid-response effect: If a person suspected of terrorist connections is believed to be in a U.S. city -- for instance, Detroit, a community with a high concentration of Muslim Americans -- the government's spy systems may be directed to collect and analyze all electronic communications into and out of the city.
NSA gets access to the flow of data from telecommunications switches through the FBI, according to current and former officials. It also has a partnership with FBI's Digital Collection system, providing access to Internet providers and other companies. The existence of a shadow hub to copy information about AT&T Corp. telecommunications in San Francisco is alleged in a lawsuit against AT&T filed by the civil-liberties group Electronic Frontier Foundation, based on documents provided by a former AT&T official. In that lawsuit, a former technology adviser to the Federal Communications Commission says in a sworn declaration that there could be 15 to 20 such operations around the country. Current and former intelligence officials confirmed a domestic network of hubs, but didn't know the number. "As a matter of policy and law, we can not discuss matters that are classified," said FBI spokesman John Miller.
The facts reported by the Wall Street journal are consistent with claims made by Mark Klein, the former AT&T technician whose documentary evidence describing the use of splitters to copy Internet traffic to the NSA forms the basis for EFF's ongoing suit against AT&T.