May 26, 2006 9:39 AM PDT

AT&T leaks sensitive info in NSA suit

Lawyers for AT&T accidentally released sensitive information while defending a lawsuit that accuses the company of facilitating a government wiretapping program, CNET has learned.

AT&T's attorneys this week filed a 25-page legal brief striped with thick black lines that were intended to obscure portions of three pages and render them unreadable (click here for PDF).

But the obscured text nevertheless can be copied and pasted inside some PDF readers, including Preview under Apple Computer's OS X and the xpdf utility used with X11.

AT&T switching<br />
center in downtown San Francisco
Credit: Declan McCullagh/CNET
A room in this AT&T switching
center in downtown San Francisco
at 611 Folsom St. is alleged to
be a place where the National
Security Agency taps Internet and
telephone communications. AT&T
has neither confirmed nor denied
these allegations, which surfaced
in a lawsuit filed by the
Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The deleted portions of the legal brief seek to offer benign reasons why AT&T would allegedly have a secret room at its downtown San Francisco switching center that would be designed to monitor Internet and telephone traffic. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed the class-action lawsuit in January, alleges that the room is used by an unlawful National Security Agency surveillance program.

"AT&T notes that the facts recited by plaintiffs are entirely consistent with any number of legitimate Internet monitoring systems, such as those used to detect viruses and stop hackers," the redacted pages say.

Another section says: "Although the plaintiffs ominously refer to the equipment as the 'Surveillance Configuration,' the same physical equipment could be utilized exclusively for other surveillance in full compliance with" the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The redacted portions of AT&T's court filing are not classified, and no information relating to actual operations of an NSA surveillance program was disclosed. Also, AT&T's attorneys at the law firms of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman and Sidley Austin were careful not to explicitly acknowledge that such a secret room actually exists.

A representative for AT&T was not immediately available to comment.

Although EFF's lawsuit was filed before allegations about the room surfaced, reports of its existence have become central to the nonprofit group's attempts to prove AT&T opened its network to the NSA. A former AT&T employee, Mark Klein, has released documents alleging the company spliced its fiber optic cables and ran a duplicate set of cables to Room 641A at its 611 Folsom Street building.

This is hardly the first time that PDF files have leaked embarrassing or sensitive information. In an ironic twist, the NSA published a 13-page paper in January describing how redactions could be done securely.

A similar problem has arisen with metadata associated with Microsoft Office files. In March 2004, a gaffe by the SCO Group revealed which companies it had considered targeting in its legal campaign against Linux users. Microsoft Office 2003/XP even offers a way to "permanently remove hidden data and collaboration data" from Word, Excel and PowerPoint files.

Documents that EFF filed, including a redacted version (click here for PDF) of a sworn statement by Klein released this week, were properly redacted. Instead of including the underlying text and layering a black rectangle on top, the San Francisco-based civil liberties group saved those pages as image files.

EFF did experience its own blunder earlier in the case, though, in which it accidentally placed sealed documents on the court's public Web site. They were visible for about an hour--a situation that U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker dubbed "a mishap" during a hearing last week.

'State secrets' invoked
Also this week, the Bush administration submitted a 29-page brief that elaborates on its argument that the case should be tossed out of court because of the "state secrets" privilege.

Lawyers for the Justice Department have offered to fly a courier from Washington to San Francisco with classified documents that Walker could review in private--documents that, in the eyes of the government, will convince him to dismiss the lawsuit. (The Bush administration also argues that EFF lawyers should not be permitted to see the classified information.)

"No aspect of this case can be litigated without disclosing state secrets," the government said in its brief this week. "The United States has not lightly invoked the state secrets privilege, and the weighty reasons for asserting the privilege are apparent from the classified material submitted in support of its assertion."

It also pointed to a May 12 ruling from a federal judge in Virginia who dismissed a case against Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent. (El-Masri had claimed to have been abducted and tortured by the CIA in an "extraordinary rendition.")

The Bush administration said the case must be dismissed on "state secrets" grounds, and U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis reluctantly agreed. Ellis wrote that "any answer to the complaint by the defendants risks the disclosure of specific details about the rendition argument."

In addition, Wired News filed a brief written by Tim Alger at Quinn Emanuel asking Walker to unseal Klein's formal declaration. (Wired News has published other documents that Klein has written.)

See more CNET content tagged:
NSA, AT&T Corp., downtown, lawsuit, San Francisco


Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Microsoft offers redaction add-in
Microsoft offers a redaction add-in for Word 2003, freely available at <a class="jive-link-external" href=";DisplayLang=en" target="_newWindow">;DisplayLang=en</a>

Does AT&#38;T not know about it?
Posted by cupsdell (12 comments )
Reply Link Flag
wow... they even screwed that up?

hey AT&#38;T...

do ya think you could possibly make your customers feel LESS
Posted by saturnine01 (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
AT&T = sleaze
This "sensitive information" didn't even need to be blacked out
in the first place.
Posted by Jackson Cracker (272 comments )
Link Flag
This "error" may be deliberate
Don't necessarily take this story at face value. Might AT&#38;T have
something to gain by making the public think they are reading
some "secret" information?
Posted by CBSTV (780 comments )
Link Flag
This "error" may be deliberate
Don't necessarily take this story at face value. Might AT&#38;T have
something to gain by making the public think they are reading
some "secret" information?
Posted by CBSTV (780 comments )
Link Flag
lawyers can do it confidentially
The American Bar Assoc. and state bar don't require lawyers to encrypt email to preserve the attorney-client privilege, but cost effective software tools could ensure the lawyer client trust.

There's no reason why the AT&#38;T lawyers couldn't release the information exactly how they wanted to electronically and not have others copy, or paste the blackened information <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

This is a pricey faux pas. In an occupation which thrives on information and confidentiality access controls could have prevented this sort of information leak <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by marileev (292 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Why doesn't anyone mention the fact that you had to have a NSA security clearance to enter these rooms??
Posted by ScullyB (47 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Why Does That Matter?
Why would it matter (if the room does exist) that one had to have an "NSA security clearance" to enter? Its conceivable that someone might be doing something completely legal that they would not want ANY government agents tracking phone call records, "NSA security clearance" or not. IOW, it's irrelevant. That's why it's not mentioned.

mark d.
Posted by markdoiron (1138 comments )
Link Flag
Wire Tapping ...
In theory, since all calls are now on digital equiptment, you could perform a legal wire tap at the switch.

So such a room would make sense from a legal perspective. This would be the simplest way to ensure that any wire tapping would be in a controlled and monitored environment, to show that it was in compliance with the law.

However this has nothing to do with the handing over of call logs of the phone company's customers.

Truthfully its amazing that people complain about this, yet if they understood what was really happening they wouldn't care.
Posted by dargon19888 (412 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Where is the original document? PDF Link?
Why is the PDF in question not available from the article? I want a primary source.
Posted by reecewilson (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
primary source
It's on the court's web site but you have to cough up a credit card and register to download it so we couldn't link to it.
Posted by declan00 (848 comments )
Link Flag
has several documents including the statement by Mark Klein to Wire magazine (which is very similar to the unedited version of the pdf).

<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

The missing words aren't that interesting, just the names and addresses of buildings where Mark Klein used to work.

It's worth a read, they've done a faily decent job trying to merge various statements to create a complete document.
Posted by ajbright (447 comments )
Link Flag
If the room doesn't exist, why is the Bush
administration asking for the case to be thrown out?

I'm worried because I'm a Verizon wireless customer and my ISP is at&#38;t. Am I in trouble? Are they listening and reading my e-mail?


Posted by wtortorici (102 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The old story
The old story, blame the other guy for the defense of the indefensible, what a pity I thought the lawyers would have been more ingenious, given the pay they are earning!

Pretty poor effort, considering the breaches in the 1968 Spy Act, the 1986 Electronic Data Communications Privacy Act, the 2001 Patriot Act, and not to mention the 4th Amendment as well!

Oh well, Oops!, the ultimate loser unfortunately is that their customers will be billed for the damages twice, in the increase of all fees to pay for poor senior management decisions , as is the way of corporate american big business, whilst the guilty parties pretend to look innocent!

The other sad aspect, is that concerned third parties are being forced to enforce all government laws, whilst Gonzales and company are turning into wannabe henchmen Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hilter style, where all legal requirements are subverted!

Choices are looking very poor indeed, for both democracy and John C Citizen, as we know it!

Let there be a mid term slaughter, on a grand scale at the polls, for the corrupt who prefer to mislead us all!
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It is amazing how one can see everything so darkly. No matter what you think President Bush's administration has done, they aren't anything close to Stalin and Hitler. Making that comparison is ridiculous.

Likewise, while corporations are out to make a profit, ultimately, they don't unless they provide something people value at a price those people are willing to pay. If you don't like what a company sells or how they go about it, vote with your dollars. The mistake is to declare that all "big business" is out to "get" the little guy at all costs. There are, without doubt, many in business who couldn't care less about their customers -- or employees, for that matter -- as people. There are also many who do. The wise course is to rail against misbehavior when it arises, not declare all companies evil.

Ultimately, if parents don't teach their children right from wrong, then it's tough for those children to behave responsibly as adults. I, for one, don't care whether I'm my kids' best friend. I want to teach them to be caring, responsible, honest, and loving. If everyone acted that way, businesses would behave better, and this country would be a better place.

You might disagree with various things an administration or company has done. You should speak out against those things, but only after you are certain of your facts. *Never* take the word of just one reporter or news agency (watch out for newswire stories printed in multiple papers, for example; that's still just one story). Seek multiple views on the subject to find balance; if you seek only those who share your view, you won't have a chance to learn when you're wrong. Don't jump to conclusions; don't assume. If you arrive at well reasoned conclusions that trouble you, then speak out or take some appropriate action. Just be sure of your information and your conclusions.

In the case of the NSA spying with the help of AT&#38;T, do note that the only thing being collected by that program is who called whom. If that information raises flags, then they seek permission for wiretapping through normal channels (unless the calls are to/from terrorists). You might think you do, but you have no expectation of privacy in such records. No warrant is required to learn who calls you or whom you call. If you'd like to change that, lobby Congress, but don't pretend that those currently holding office are dictators on par with the worst in history or that just electing folks from the other party will solve all ills.
Posted by c|net Reader (856 comments )
Link Flag
You can listen to the "redacted" text
You can also just listen to the redacted text using a Mac's Speech
Posted by cacondor (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
No Such Agency Says There Is No Such Room
We now have a new acronym, NSR for No Such Room. So there was No Such Spying (NSS) in the No Such Room.
Posted by CancerMan2 (74 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Are those Telecomm execs so stupid that they do not know how applications they use work?

Revealing intelligence methods and sources is a crime. The Enron verdict showed that executives with big salaries cannot use ignorance of what was going on around them as an excuse.

Some jail terms might serve 'to encourage the others'.
Posted by ArtDowns (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Malvo and the War Debate's Suspicious Timing
I am curious why none of the media covers the most important
aspect of the Malvo shootings. If you look at Newspapers on the
dates when the shootings are underway you discover something
I find quite interesting. The shootings begin to dominate the
news the day before the debate on the Iraq war starts and they
catch them the day after the declaration of war??? If you ask
most people "do you remember the debate about starting the
second Iraq war", they will all answer "yes of course". But if you
followup with the question "name one point in the debate, a
speech by a Senator or where their senator stood", nada.

Almost no one noticed any aspect of the most important debate
in the last 50 years?

And interesting and odd fact. No one has done a story on what
the real impact of the shootings were. It was to virtually
eliminate the war debate from the media.

The special forces background of the senior member of the pair
also seems to get short shrift.

Smells a little fishy to me based on what little I know about it. At
minimum its a very significant part of the story, i.e. that a
common murderer had such an impact on our political process.
Why is nobody covering this obvious undeniable fact?

Dan Pride
Posted by Daniel Pride (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
George Bush's favorite book?
The CIA analysis of the KGB.
Only kidding! HA, HA!! Right? Right? Just a joke, right?
Or, maybe...Imagine, if you will, a world where sight and sound, even your thoughts, are transparent to ...the CIA? Homeland Security? The FBI? To anyone with a computer?
The Bush administration latest claim is that "state secrets" even prevent knowing what the "secrets" are about. With logic like that, we are not far away from a government similar to that of the USSR and it's KGB, Committee for State Security.
Give me a break.
I've been a lifelong Republican, and up to now, proud of it. But now...but, now, I'm more than a little concerned.
Concerned that government is "rationalizing" it's intrusiveness into our lives on the grounds of "state secrets" and terrorism fighting. While some of the need for security is justified, any part of it that purports to allow the withholding of overview by Congress and the Courts is wrong. It could lead to absolute anarchy by this administration, or another.
King George? How's that sound?
I retched when I typed it.
Much more of this secrecy, and we'll have "disappearances" just like say, South American countries, or North Korea, or whatever. And who would know? With "state secrets" allowed, we couldn't even ask about the disappearances, write about them, question their location, methods of "extraction", (How about kidnapping in the middle of the night? What country does that sound like?) How about capture on American soil, being held "incommunicado," with no one even knowing you're gone, much less where you are.
The claim of "state secrets" is being used to ask the courts to dismiss a lawsuit seeking to shed light on government wiretapping without court oversight.
That is WRONG!
Our system works because of Checks and Balances, not in spite of them. Our founding fathers determined that protection of individual rights would be the foundation of our country; to reduce even one smidgen, one iota, of those rights is to disregard the hundreds of thousands of lives lost in "the good fight," the fight for truth, justice and "the American Way."
It dishonors our constitution and our ancestors to allow even one infraction of our basic rights.
Please consider that when you are tempted to "glaze over" with boredom when hearing about more and more invasion of your privacy in the name of national security. And do something about it; write your Congress persons and Senators, your Mayors and Governors. Let everyone know that you won't allow the loss of your personal freedoms. And, hopefully, you'll value those freedoms enough to vote each and every time in support of them.
Out "national" isn't worth much if the price we pay is the loss of our freedoms.
Posted by bdennis410 (175 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Over the Top
Aren't you overreacting a bit? You mentioned the Bush Administration citing "state secrets" as a way to avoid Congressional and Judicial oversight. You might just want to rethink that. Note that a *judge* gets to look at the classified information to *decide* whether the "state secrets" argument has merit. If the judge agrees, then a jury, various lawyers, court reporters, plaintiffs, etc. don't get to hear the "state secrets," which protects the Government's ability to do what it must.

So, thanks for the civics lesson, but you might want to start with something more basic like, reading.

Oh, I should also mention that I am also a Republican disappointed in the Republican Party. Ronald Reagan knew how things were supposed to be. That said, I prefer to try to fix things from within the Party than to choose most Democrats, who are definitely worse, or those from second tier parties with no chance of success in the current political world.
Posted by c|net Reader (856 comments )
Link Flag
This is used by every country but USA?
I find that we in America are so stupid. So afraid of America listening to US We have little or no true knowledge how many countries are listening to us now. Data mining or Word mining has been around Longer than most think. Congress is most afraid of this than anyone it would show how they sold us down the river for cheap labor and back door payouts.
These types of minning been in US armforces for years.
Posted by cohaver (189 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Redacted pdf
On my browser (Opera) if I right-clip on the blacked out text, it opens a menu which includes "Look up xxxxx" in which xxxxx is the blacked out word at that point.
Posted by rlpete2 (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot



RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.