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AT&T’s Contract with the CIA—One of Payoffs for Lavishly Funding Obama & Other Political Campaigns?

AT&T, one of the largest telecommunications companies, has a more than $10 million contract with the CIA to provide the intelligence agency with data on calls that cross the company’s networks all over the world. The company provides the information for “overseas counterterrorism investigations,” and targeting foreign suspects, but the information being provided to the CIA sometimes involves data from Americans’ international calls.

This contract has apparently been operational since some time before 2010, according to a New York Times report by Charlie Savage.

The news of this contract, which government officials revealed or confirmed to the Times, comes after a Times report in September that AT&T has a partnership with agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency. That partnership called the Hemisphere Project has granted the DEA access to records of “decades of Americans’ phone calls.”

It is unknown how many millions of dollars AT&T is making off the arrangement with the DEA, but, like the CIA contract, it probably is making a good amount of money.

Both the partnership with the DEA and the CIA contract are voluntary. No agency is compelling the telecommunications company to provide this data. The company has determined their are profits to be made and power to be gained. The company has chosen to become an integral part of the US surveillance state.

The CIA contract certainly raises issues of privacy and whether proper oversight is being conducted. The Times report indicates that the CIA is essentially replicating an NSA program, but that the CIA is probably able to submit “significantly more queries for data” because this arrangement is not subject to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Additionally, there is a political dimension. The telecommunications company has developed a cozy relationship with the US government. Savage notes AT&T helped “facilitate” the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. It, along with two other phone companies, embedded employees in an FBI facility to help provide “quick analysis of call records” from 2003 to 2007 until the “embedding was shut down amid criticism by the Justice Department’s inspector general that officers were obtaining Americans’ call data without issuing subpoenas.”

AT&T has become one of the biggest corporate contributors to US political campaigns. From 1989 to 2010, AT&T gave “more than $45 million in campaign donations to both Republican and Democratic candidates.”

The company gave $3 million to Obama’s second inauguration. AT&T donated at least $80,000 to Obama’s 2012 campaign. It was the official cell phone company of the Democratic National Convention. The company’s logo was all over swag at the convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.

In 2008, AT&T held a party to support Democrats who had voted for immunity for telecommunications companies, like AT&T, involved in warrantless wiretapping.

Glenn Greenwald, who was then writing for Salon, and Firedoglake’s Jane Hamsher tried to get into the party to report on it. They were stopped and not allowed to enter and Greenwald told someone who would not let him go in, “It’s extraordinary that the same Blue Dogs that just gave this extremely corrupt gift to AT&T are now attending a party underwritten by AT&T, the purpose of which is to thank the Blue Dogs for the corrupt legislative gift that they got. So AT&T gives money to Blue Dogs, the Blue Dogs turn around and immunize AT&T from lawbreaking, and then AT&T throws a party at the Democratic convention thanking them, and then they all go in and into this exclusive club.”

The Texas-based company had “the most high-profile corporate presence in Denver.” It was, according to USA Today, “a major sponsor at the convention, it is holding daily lunches for state delegations at the Pinnacle Club, with its startling views of the Rocky Mountain range, and co-hosting hip parties for the likes of the Screen Actors’ Guild and the New Democratic Coalition.” [AT&T was also a major donor to the Republican convention in St. Paul the next week.]

As USA Today noted in 2008, “About 40 lawsuits have been filed against the telecommunications companies by groups and individuals who believed the Bush administration illegally monitored their phone calls or e-mails. The White House had threatened to veto any intelligence legislation that did not protect the companies from those lawsuits.” [Obama had threatened to vote against telecom immunity, too, but flip-flopped.]

AT&T’s contracts with government agencies show the access the company has won in the US government through its willingness to lavishly fund political campaigns and ritual political events like inaugurations and party conventions. This funding has effectively bought off political leaders who would otherwise hold them accountable for their role in surveillance, which intrudes into the privacy of Americans or enables lawless surveillance by agencies like the CIA or DEA.

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AT&T’s Contract With the CIA – One of Payoffs for Lavishly Funding Obama & Other Political Campaigns?

AT&T, one of the largest telecommunications companies, has a more than $10 million contract with the CIA to provide the intelligence agency with data on calls that cross the company’s networks all over the world. The company provides the information for “overseas counterterrorism investigations,” and targeting foreign suspects, but the information being provided to the CIA sometimes involves data from Americans’ international calls.

This contract has apparently been operational since some time before 2010, according to a New York Times report by Charlie Savage.

The news of this contract, which government officials revealed or confirmed to the Times, comes after a Times report in September that AT&T has a partnership with agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency. That partnership called the Hemisphere Project has granted the DEA access to records of “decades of Americans’ phone calls.”

It is unknown how many millions of dollars AT&T is making off the arrangement with the DEA, but, like the CIA contract, it probably is making a good amount of money.

Both the partnership with the DEA and the CIA contract are voluntary. No agency is compelling the telecommunications company to provide this data. The company has determined their are profits to be made and power to be gained. The company has chosen to become an integral part of the US surveillance state.

The CIA contract certainly raises issues of privacy and whether proper oversight is being conducted. The Times report indicates that the CIA is essentially replicating an NSA program, but that the CIA is probably able to submit “significantly more queries for data” because this arrangement is not subject to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Additionally, there is a political dimension. The telecommunications company has developed a cozy relationship with the US government. Savage notes AT&T helped “facilitate” the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. It, along with two other phone companies, embedded employees in an FBI facility to help provide “quick analysis of call records” from 2003 to 2007 until the “embedding was shut down amid criticism by the Justice Department’s inspector general that officers were obtaining Americans’ call data without issuing subpoenas.”

AT&T has become one of the biggest corporate contributors to US political campaigns. From 1989 to 2010, AT&T gave “more than $45 million in campaign donations to both Republican and Democratic candidates.”

The company gave $3 million to Obama’s second inauguration. AT&T donated at least $80,000 to Obama’s 2012 campaign. It was the official cell phone company of the Democratic National Convention. The company’s logo was all over swag at the convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.

In 2008, AT&T held a party to support Democrats who had voted for immunity for telecommunications companies, like AT&T, involved in warrantless wiretapping.

Glenn Greenwald, who was then writing for Salon, and Firedoglake’s Jane Hamsher tried to get into the party to report on it. They were stopped and not allowed the enter and Greenwald told someone who would not let him go in, “It’s extraordinary that the same Blue Dogs that just gave this extremely corrupt gift to AT&T are now attending a party underwritten by AT&T, the purpose of which is to thank the Blue Dogs for the corrupt legislative gift that they got. So AT&T gives money to Blue Dogs, the Blue Dogs turn around and immunize AT&T from lawbreaking, and then AT&T throws a party at the Democratic convention thanking them, and then they all go in and into this exclusive club.”

The Texas-based company had “the most high-profile corporate presence in Denver.” It was, according to USA Today, “a major sponsor at the convention, it is holding daily lunches for state delegations at the Pinnacle Club, with its startling views of the Rocky Mountain range, and co-hosting hip parties for the likes of the Screen Actors’ Guild and the New Democratic Coalition.” [AT&T was also a major donor to the Republican convention in St. Paul the next week.]

As USA Today noted in 2008, “About 40 lawsuits have been filed against the telecommunications companies by groups and individuals who believed the Bush administration illegally monitored their phone calls or e-mails. The White House had threatened to veto any intelligence legislation that did not protect the companies from those lawsuits.” [Obama had threatened to vote against telecom immunity, too, but flip-flopped.]

AT&T’s contracts with government agencies show the access the company has won in the US government through its willingness to lavishly fund political campaigns and ritual political events like inaugurations and party conventions. This funding has effectively bought off political leaders who would otherwise hold them accountable for their role in surveillance, which intrudes into the privacy of Americans or enables lawless surveillance by agencies like the CIA or DEA.

Photo by Adam Fagen, used under Creative Commons license

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."

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