by Patrick Devlin

The British telecom company Vodaphone, the world’s second largest telecommunications company, which owns and operates networks in 21 countries and partners with telecommunications companies in over 40 additional countries, has released its first and the world’s first self-described “Law Enforcement Disclosure Report” that confirms allegations that have been made by many who are concerned about the warrantless spying carried out by the US government on its own citizens and the citizens of nations around the world; that the US government has been and is currently engaging in massive worldwide surveillance and data collection of the complete content of phone calls that pass through the networks of not only Vodaphone but all telecommunications networks via direct access using “pipes” or wires connected directly to the companies communications equipment.

Vodaphone’s revelations, first reported by the Guardian but set forth in Vodaphone’s separately released disclosure report, represent the first confirmation from a major telecommunications company itself that the US security directorate and the countries who cooperate with the NSA have physically tapped into the world’s telecom substructure, confirming allegations that have been made by telecommunications technicians and privacy rights advocates since early last decade.

The significant aspect of Vodaphone’s revelations is it’s recognition that, using direct wiretapping technology as the company reports, US government spy agencies are able to listen to and record the entire content of the telecommunications of the world’s citizens with absolutely no requirement to seek a warrant from any judge, including the secret judges in America’s secret courts that were established in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

In the public statements made by many apparatchiks of the Obama administration and by the president himself, Americans concerned by the implication of the revelations made by former National Security Administration employee Edward Snowden (that their constitutionally protected rights against unwarranted surveillance have been abrogated and nullified under the national security lockdown that followed the initiation of America’s “War on Terror”) have been continually reassured that “When it comes to telephone calls: nobody is listening to your phone calls,” and further “This program, by the way, is fully overseen not just by Congress but by the FISA courts,” (Barack Obama, July 2014). What was revealed by Vodaphone today is that such statements are misrepresentational and intentionally obfuscatory. Moreover, these statements display in a stark fashion the level of cynicism and patronization with which our elected representatives and their appointees in the national security establishment treat American citizens and their constitutionally guaranteed rights.

Vodaphone described in their disclosure report a neo-fascistic scheme constructed by US spy agencies with absolutely no congressional oversight or judicial order where phone company employees and contractors, “are bound by law to absolute security. They are not permitted to discuss any aspect of a demand received with their line management or any other colleagues, nor can they reveal that a demand has been received at all, as doing so could potentially compromise an active criminal investigation or undermine measures to protect national security. Additionally, in some countries, they cannot even reveal the specific law enforcement assistance technical capabilities have been established within their companies.” Vodaphone goes on to describe that these company employees work in secret rooms that can only be accessed with national security clearances and where company employees receive their orders from and report only to government security agents – phone company supervisors and executives are barred from even entering the secured spy-rooms.

The company also reports that certain countries where Vodaphone provides telecom service require telecommunications companies to function within “specific technical and operating requirements designed to enable access to consumer data” directly by government agencies- in other words, without having to comply with laws requiring judicial oversight or laws that protect consumers’ privacy. Vodaphone disclosed that in some of the countries that it operates the “law dictates that specific agencies and authorities must have direct access to an operator’s network, bypassing any form of operational control over lawful interception on the part of the operator. In those countries Vodaphone will not receive any form of demand for lawful interception access as the relevant agencies and authorities already have permanent access to customer communications via their own direct link.”

While Vodaphone’s disclosures reflect the government surveillance substructure in the countries within which it operates, the information conveyed by Vodaphone supports in exacting detail the allegations made in 2006 by AT&T technician Mark Klein.

Documents filed in support of a lawsuit against AT&T by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (Hepting v. AT&T) based in part upon information reported by Klein revealed the technical details of a secret program that was operative at that time in which the telecommunications giant allowed the National Security Agency complete access to its customers’ telephone and internet traffic. The suit alleged that AT&T illegally permitted the NSA to monitor phone and computer communications without obtaining warrants.

Klein had discovered when he worked for AT&T that the National Security Administration installed sophisticated data mining equipment in a secret room within an AT&T switching facility in San Francisco. According to Klein, who had worked for AT&T for 22 years and was retired at the time he became a whistle-blower, NSA personnel were involved in the construction of the secret room, and AT&T’s regular technical crews were not allowed into the area. Klein heard from coworkers that similar programs were being implemented in other locations, including Los Angeles, San Diego, and Seattle.

The EFF case was dismissed in 2009 by the 9th Circuit Court which claimed the government’s warrantless wiretapping was made legal retroactively when the FISA laws were amended in 2008 (amendments that Barack Obama voted in support of when he was a US Senator-breaking an election promise he had made the previous year).