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Privacy Whistle-blower Mark Klein in His Own Words

The building at 611 Folsom Street in San Francisco, where AT&T keeps switching equipment. (Google Street View)

The building at 611 Folsom Street in San Francisco, where AT&T keeps switching equipment. (Google Street View)

In 2006, an AT&T technician went public with what he said was an unconstitiutional effort by the National Security Agency to build a ‘black room’ inside an AT&T switching facility at 611 Folsom Street in San Francisco, a room that would allow the National Security Agency to survey and analyse Internet traffic passing through the facility on a massive scale, by splitting fiber optic signals. That technician was Mark Klein, and he lives in Alameda.

The disclosure sparked lawsuits against AT&T and legislation in the United States congress that retroactively provided immunity to the telephone companies for facilitating the surveillance. New revelations of data collecting by the National Security Agency (NSA) has brought renewed focus on Mark Klein’s original whistle-blowing.

Action Alameda News spoke with Mark Klein by telephone this week. Here’s what he had to say.

On the Latest Revelations of NSA Telephone and Internet Data Collecting

Mark Klein:

It clearly indicates what I’ve been saying. What this reveals is that it not only continues what I revealed [in 2006] but it expands it a hundred times over. The Verizon case is hard evidence of a court order that they collect metadata on everybody in the country. The order says they should turn over data on all phone calls for millions of people, innocent people. The government can’t deny that.

Since it came out, the Director of National Intelligence revealed that he was lying to Congress. When he told Senator Ron Wyden that he was not collecting information on millions of Americans – that was a direct lie.

On PRISM, the Internet and Social Media Data Collection Program Revealed by the Washington Post

Mark Klein:

They’ve taken it to a whole new level. Not only can they catch packets as they go by on [Internet] peering links, [per Klein’s 2006 revelations] but they can get access to stored data. So that gives them a whole new window on everybody’s private lives. They’ve stripped everyone naked.

I think it’s more involved than just capturing data as it goes by using the Narus device in the telecom rooms. Look at the Prism slides – it says they can get access to stored data. They’re getting access to stored data, like pictures and email stored on servers, so that suggests a deeper penetration. That’s new, and that’s big. That’s why people feel this more directly this time, and why people feel like it’s a bigger scandal this time. It’s more concrete and more personal now.

On His Motivations for Going Public in 2006

Mark Klein:

I knew it was illegal back in 2006, because the NSA had a scandal in the 1970s over domestic spying. After the Nixon watergate scandal, it came out that the NSA was collecting information on domestic anti-war groups and domestic dissidents, and that was a total violation of the NSA charter – the NSA was supposed to be spying only on foreign entities. That was the point of the FISA law – any attempt to spy on Americans domestically had to go to the FISA court for approval. That was not a good arrangement, I might add – it’s a secret court where only the government could show up and speak to the court and nobody else could see what’s going on.

In 2006, I could see that the optical splitters were copying everything – there was no selection going on there. I knew it was not in accordance with the Fourth Amendment. I was upset, because I was part of it, I was wiring up the splitter cabinet. I didn’t want to be part of that.

On His Motivations for Speaking Publicly Now

Mark Klein:

[Since 2006] Congress did nothing. They did worse than nothing, they legalized it and expanded it. Congress covered it up. I’m happy to say what I think. It’s all criminal and illegal – it wasn’t fixed then and this is a chance to get the word out on it again. Congress pasted a ‘yellow sticky’ on it that says it’s ‘legal’ but that doesn’t make it legal – Congress has known about this for years, both parties, Democratic and Republican, have been in on this for years, and now their circling the wagons.

When I tried to raise it to Senator Dianne Feinstein years ago, she wouldn’t talk to me or my lawyer, she was pushing the immunity bill to protect the phone companies, to pass a law to give retroactive protection for the phone companies. Feinstein was a leader in covering it up. Now she’s denouncing [PRISM and Verizon leaker Edward] Snowden as a traitor and so is John Boehner – it’s a bi-partisan conspiracy against the American people – they want to collect data on everyone. That’s why they’re building the Utah data warehouse.

But Isn’t it Justified to Keep us Safe?

Mark Klein:

That’s an excuse for committing all kinds of crimes. They didn’t stop the Boston bombing did they? Even though they have all this Internet spying in place, and the older brother had his stuff on Facebook, and the FBI was tipped off about him.

If they want to go after individuals they have information on, they can get a warrant signed by the judge. Now what they’re doing is bulk collection on innocent people, millions of people in violation of the Fourth Amendment. And it hasn’t kept us safe.

Now they’re circling the wagons, saying, ‘we have all this secret information and we’ve used it to keep you safe, but we can’t show you the information.’ They’ve been caught lying so many times I can’t believe them.

If they want to stop terrorism, they need to stop the drone assassination program, because that’s what’s pissing people off. They kill a lot of innocent people, that’s been documented.

The United States has been sponsoring Al Qaeda type groups to overthrow governments. Right now they’re sponsoring the Al Nusra front in Syria, which has Al Qaeda ties. They did the same in Libya – the same groups they sponsored turned around and killed the American ambassador. The United States government sponsors the very same groups they claim they’re fighting.

People ask what should be done now. For those that believe in defending civil liberties, try to defend this guy Snowden who has put himself in danger. Congress should give him retroactive immunity, but they won’t, because they’re trying to cover it up. If there’s any justice in the world, Edward Snowdown would get retroactive immunity. Of course he’s a hero – it’s clear he’s taken a very bold stand on principle. It’s clear he’s thrown away a very comfortable life to stand on democratic principles. There’s nothing in it for him, he’s in danger here. The guy has got more guts than a lot of people I can think of.

On the Recent Supreme Court Decision on Maryland v. King
[Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court held, 5-4, in Maryland v. King that a cheek swab on arrest to collect DNA does not violate the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.]

Mark Klein:

That’s unjustified taking of private information prior to conviction. By getting your DNA they can store it in a database, where it stays forever. I agree with the minority Supreme Court opinion – they are taking your private information without probable cause.

Is Mark Klein a Hero or a Traitor?

Mark Klein:

I’m just a truth-teller. When I saw something wrong, I wanted to tell everyone about it. ‘Hero’ sounds like too much. I never worried about the government prosecuting me, as a I never took a security oath. I was only worried about AT&T suing me for removing company documents, but they wanted to end the bad publicity, so they didn’t do anything.

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