Telco Spying Accusations Widen

A second whistle-blower has come forward with revelations about a wireless carrier's open circuit to the government. 

A second whistle-blower has come forward with accusations that an unnamed major wireless carrier widely cooperated with the Bush administration's warrantless domestic spying program.

Babak Pasdar, a computer security consultant, claims in a Feb. 28 seven-page affidavit that the carrier granted the government an open gateway known as the "Quantico circuit" to customer voice and data packets, including e-mail and text messages. Quantico, Va., is the home of a U.S. Marine Corp base and the headquarters of the FBI's electronic surveillance operations.

Pasdar claims he discovered the circuit in September 2003 while working for the carrier to improve security on the company's internal network. "I was withheld from implementing what the organization had deemed 'standard' access control for the Quantico circuit," Pasdar said in his affidavit.

When he pressed two company consultants about the highly unusual nature of allowing "some third party" to have completely open access to the system, Pasdar said one of the consultants told him, "Dude, that's what they want."

Later, he said, the company's director of security told Pasdar to "forget about the circuit" and to "move on" with the project.

Pasdar's claims are similar to the disclosures from retired AT&T technician Mark Klein, who has described a "secret room" in an AT&T facility that allowed the government to monitor the voice and data traffic of AT&T's customers. Klein's statements are basis for a lawsuit the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) has filed accusing AT&T of violating customers' privacy rights.

"When you put Mr. Pasdar's information together with that of AT&T whistle-blower Mark Klein, there is troubling evidence of telecom misconduct in massive domestic surveillance of ordinary Americans," EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn said in a statement. "Congress needs to have hearings and get some answers about whether American telecommunications companies are helping the government to illegally spy on millions of us."

The Senate Feb. 13 approved a renewal of FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) that includes immunity for the carriers who participated in the White House's domestic surveillance program. The carriers are under a federal court order to neither confirm nor deny their participation in the program.

The House has yet to reach a compromise with the Senate over the telco immunity provisions in the FISA renewal. President Bush has promised to veto any legislation that does not grant immunity to the telephone companies.