The National Security Agency and other intelligence outfits apparently are gathering data "downstream" from fiber-optic cables operated by the technology firm Level 3, even when companies such as Google and Yahoo do not willingly turn over their data, The New York Times reported.
Level 3 is one of a very few providers that carries almost all of the Internet's data.
If the NSA did break into Internet cable links to eavesdrop, it was because data flowing on Level 3's fiber-optic cables had not been unencrypted, the Times reports. While information stored in data-center computer farms, like those run by Google, is secured, data flowing on Level 3's lines between computer farms had been vulnerable.
The Times reported that both Google and Yahoo now encrypt information that runs on the fiber optic cables between their data centers.
Intelligence agencies have routinely tapped long-distance voice traffic. In the 1960s, U.S. spies monitored Soviet voice, fax, microwave, and other communications transmitted over fiber-optic cables, according to the Times.
President Ronald Reagan's former national security adviser John Poindexter proposed in 2002 a comprehensive program to vacuum telephone calls, emails, and financial data for purposes of analysis, the Times reported. While that project was abandoned, Poindexter's vision ultimately became the blueprint for today's NSA activities, the Times reported.
Because of the nature of the Internet, it is impractical to distinguish between domestic and international communications and thereby to create a wall between domestic and foreign surveillance, the Times said.
Level 3 is located in the Denver suburb of Broomfield and carries more traffic than Verizon and AT&T combined. The company is entrusted with providing secure communications
for the Defense Information Systems Agency, which handles highly sensitive government communications.
"At the end of the day, if the Justice Department shows up at your door, you have to comply," Lowell McAdam, Verizon chief executive told the Times,. "We have gag orders on what we can say, and can't defend ourselves, but we were told they do this with every carrier."
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