Government lawyers secretly empowered to enter US telecoms operations centers

Team Telecom is a group of lawyers from the FBI, DoJ, DHS, and DoD who were empowered to enter any US network operations center of companies like Global Crossing on 30 minutes' notice, allowing them to secretly audit and intervene in the maintenance of the Internet's biggest backbones. The employees who dealt with the team were required to be US citizens, sworn to secrecy, and unable to discuss what they did, sometimes even with their own employers.

The security agreement for Global Crossing, whose fiber-optic network connected 27 nations and four continents, required the company to have a “Network Operations Center” on U.S. soil that could be visited by government officials with 30 minutes of warning. Surveillance requests, meanwhile, had to be handled by U.S. citizens screened by the government and sworn to secrecy — in many cases prohibiting information from being shared even with the company’s executives and directors.

“Our telecommunications companies have no real independence in standing up to the requests of government or in revealing data,” said Susan Crawford, a Yeshiva University law professor and former Obama White House official. “This is yet another example where that’s the case.”

The full extent of the National Security Agency’s access to fiber-optic cables remains classified. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a statement saying that legally authorized data collection “has been one of our most important tools for the protection of the nation’s — and our allies’ — security. Our use of these authorities has been properly classified to maximize the potential for effective collection against foreign terrorists and other adversaries...”

...Lipman, a partner with Bingham McCutchen, based in Washington, said the talks with Team Telecom typically involve little give and take. “It’s like negotiating with the Motor Vehicle Department,” he said.

Agreements with private companies protect U.S. access to cables’ data for surveillance [Craig Timberg and Ellen Nakashima/WashPo]