All the phone companies helped the NSA commit mass surveillance, but the agency singled out Ma Bell as "highly collaborative" with an "extreme willingness to help."
The revelation comes from newly released Snowden docs, spanning 2003-2013. AT&T handed "billions" of emails over to the NSA, provided tech support when the NSA wanted to wiretap the UN, and received more than double the financial support from the NSA as the next-most-enriched telco.
AT&T voluntarily served as the testbed for new NSA spying techniques, for which the NSA was very grateful; NSA agents who visited AT&T facilities were reminded to be on their best behavior: "This is a partnership, not a contractual relationship." AT&T was the first telco to begin mass surveillance of Americans after the passage of the Patriot Act in 2001, turning on spying twice as fast as the competition.
In September 2003, according to the previously undisclosed N.S.A. documents, AT&T was the first partner to turn on a new collection capability that the N.S.A. said amounted to a “ ‘live’ presence on the global net.” In one of its first months of operation, the Fairview program forwarded to the agency 400 billion Internet metadata records — which include who contacted whom and other details, but not what they said — and was “forwarding more than one million emails a day to the keyword selection system” at the agency’s headquarters in Fort Meade, Md. Stormbrew was still gearing up to use the new technology, which appeared to process foreign-to-foreign traffic separate from the post-9/11 program.
In 2011, AT&T began handing over 1.1 billion domestic cellphone calling records a day to the N.S.A. after “a push to get this flow operational prior to the 10th anniversary of 9/11,” according to an internal agency newsletter. This revelation is striking because after Mr. Snowden disclosed the program of collecting the records of Americans’ phone calls, intelligence officials told reporters that, for technical reasons, it consisted mostly of landline phone records.
AT&T Helped N.S.A. Spy on an Array of Internet Traffic [Julia Angwin, Charlie Savage, Jeff Larson, Henrik Moltke, Laura Poitras and James Risen/NYT]