10 South Canal Street in Chicago contains a building part of NSA Internet surveillance

The Intercept claims to have identified 8 major U.S. cities that have a building where the NSA spies on telecommunications through AT&T facilities. Here is the photo from the story of 10 South Canal Street in Chicago as well some of the background of the building:

https://theintercept.com/2018/06/25/att-internet-nsa-spy-hubs/

10 South Canal Street, Chicago, IL

 

Like many other major telecommunications hubs built during the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Chicago AT&T building was designed amid the Cold War to withstand a nuclear attack. The 538-foot skyscraper, located in the West Loop Gate area of the city, was completed in 1971. There are windows at both the top and bottom of the vast concrete structure, but 18 of its 28 floors are windowless…

 

10 South Canal Street originally contained a million-gallon oil tank, turbine generators, and a water well, so that it could continue to function for more than two weeks without electricity or water from the city, according to Illinois broadcaster WBEZ. The building is “anchored in bedrock, which helps support the weight of the equipment inside, and gives it extra resistance to bomb blasts or earthquakes,” WBEZ reported.

Today, the facility contains six large V-16 yellow Caterpillar generators that can provide backup electricity in the event of a power failure, according to the Chicago Sun Times. Inside the skyscraper, AT&T stores some 200,000 gallons of diesel fuel, enough to run the generators for 40 days.

NSA and AT&T maps point to the Chicago facility as being one of the “peering” hubs, which process internet traffic as part of the NSA surveillance program code-named FAIRVIEW. Philip Long, who was employed by AT&T for more than two decades as a technician servicing its networks, confirmed that the Chicago site was one of eight primary AT&T “Service Node Routing Complexes,” or SNRCs, in the U.S. NSA documents explicitly describe tapping into flows of data at all eight of these sites.

It is common that cities have buildings that may be hiding something, ranging from telecommunication structures to power substations to fake facades to hide subways or rail lines. But, I assume very few people would guess that a rather normal looking city structure could be part of an Internet surveillance program. I’m not sure what people would do with this knowledge. Protest outside? Give it a wide berth by not traveling near it? Chalk it up as a local oddity and then move on with normal life?

A fortified skyscraper to house telecommunications hub, shield NSA spying

AT&T owns a unique skyscraper in Manhattan that may also serve as a key node in the government’s snooping into phone calls:

They called it Project X. It was an unusually audacious, highly sensitive assignment: to build a massive skyscraper, capable of withstanding an atomic blast, in the middle of New York City. It would have no windows, 29 floors with three basement levels, and enough food to last 1,500 people two weeks in the event of a catastrophe.

But the building’s primary purpose would not be to protect humans from toxic radiation amid nuclear war. Rather, the fortified skyscraper would safeguard powerful computers, cables, and switchboards. It would house one of the most important telecommunications hubs in the United States — the world’s largest center for processing long-distance phone calls, operated by the New York Telephone Company, a subsidiary of AT&T.

The building was designed by the architectural firm John Carl Warnecke & Associates, whose grand vision was to create a communication nerve center like a “20th century fortress, with spears and arrows replaced by protons and neutrons laying quiet siege to an army of machines within.”…

It is not uncommon to keep the public in the dark about a site containing vital telecommunications equipment. But 33 Thomas Street is different: An investigation by The Intercept indicates that the skyscraper is more than a mere nerve center for long-distance phone calls. It also appears to be one of the most important National Security Agency surveillance sites on U.S. soil — a covert monitoring hub that is used to tap into phone calls, faxes, and internet data.

Three quick thoughts:

  1. Telecommunications equipment and other vital infrastructure has to go somewhere in major cities. It is often covered up in a variety of ways. But, a 500+ foot building is difficult to disguise completely.
  2. Americans tend not to spend much time thinking about how many features of modern life happen. That such a large building is needed to house a “large international ‘gateway switch'” hints at what is needed behind the scenes when people use a phone to dial people outside the country.
  3. The article may be suggesting that the architecture of the building matches its sinister use. This sounds like post hoc theorizing. When construction started in 1969, the architecture fit what was needed: a protected building. I don’t know if it is possible to make such structures more beautiful or appealing. On the other hand, perhaps some can see past the functional approach used in the design of many infrastructure housings and admire such particular designs. Chic infrastructure?

Common narrative: bucolic suburbs surprised by deviance

A recent revelation in the Baltimore suburbs is a common story across media platforms: idyllic suburban communities are shocked by hidden deviance and crime that is suddenly exposed.

The hills in Clarks Glen are gently rolling, the homes McMansions. And the lawns are mowed to the near-perfection a country club groundskeeper might envy.

It’s the very model of affluent suburbia, hardly a place where anyone thinks the man next door would be stopped by customs agents on his way to China with the makings of missile detectors in his bags.

But appearances can be deceiving.

Zhenchun “Ted” Huang, a longtime resident of the Clarksville subdivision in Howard County, pleaded guilty this month to federal charges that he tried tofraudulently obtain electronic devices that can be used in fabricating missile detectors and other high-grade military equipment…

In Clarks Glen, the development where he lived for at least eight years, former neighbors were astonished to hear the news. They saw Huang, an electrical engineer, as anything but the cloak-and-dagger type.

Instead, they said, he was a taciturn man who mowed his lawn once a week, whether it was needed or not, and rarely socialized.

On one hand, people in the suburbs are genuinely shocked by such stories. They often move to nice suburbs to escape such issues like crime and international espionage. Nobody wants to think that a sex offender is lurking down the street where they let their kids play. These sorts of things are problems more often associated with cities or less affluent locales.

On the other hand, reactions like this sound like a TV show. Oh wait, is this an episode of The Americans or a Hollywood movie or a John Keats novel about the hidden problems of suburbia? One shouldn’t be completely naive about what can be lurking in any community, let alone suburbs. I’m not advocating for paranoia or hypervigilance – this isn’t the best way to promote social ties or community life – but people everywhere are capable of dastardly deeds. The reactions of neighbors like those quoted above might say more about how well suburban neighbors know each other (often not very well) than the overall actions of suburbanites.

Perhaps the issue here is the overselling of suburban life over the decades. If suburbs were and are often marketed as escapes from social problems (there is a long history of suburban developers suggesting such things as well as suburban residents and leaders), places that are perfect for children and offer private space, the American Dream, then any actions in contrast to that are viewed quite negatively.

Facebook as “the most appalling spying machine ever invented”

The Drudge Report has a link to a story that details what Wikileak’s Julian Assange thinks about government monitoring of Facebook:

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange called Facebook “the most appalling spying machine ever invented” in an interview with Russia Today, pointing to the popular social networking site as one of the top tools for the U.S. to spy on its citizens.

“Here we have the world’s most comprehensive database about people, their relationships, their names, their addresses, their locations, their communications with each other and their relatives, all sitting within the United States, all accessible to US Intelligence,” he said. “Facebook, Google, Yahoo, all these major U.S. organizations have built-in infaces for US intelligence.

“Everyone should understand that when they add their friends to Facebook they are doing free work for the United States intelligence agencies,” he added.

The comments were a bit strange, coming from the founder of a website best known for pushing spilling secret information.

In an email to the Daily News, a Facebook spokesman denied the company was doing anything that they weren’t legally obligated to do, saying that “the legal standards for compelling a company to turn over data are determined by the laws of the country, and we respect that standard.”

This article suggests Assange’s idea is a bit daft. And while I’m just guessing at the reason for Drudge’s link, this headline could be a sobering thought for many a Facebook user and is also evidence for conspiracy theorists who think the government is out to get them. So what should we make of such comments?

On one hand, I am skeptical that the government has to-the-minute access to everything that these websites offer. On the other hand, why shouldn’t the government be monitoring online activity? If employers routinely check Facebook in order to learn more about applicants or their own workers, why shouldn’t or can’t the government? In fact, in today’s world, wouldn’t the average Internet user expect that the government is looking at websites in order to monitor and investigate certain threats that are harmful to society? Privacy (account numbers, passwords, etc.) is one thing but if people are conducting illegal activity online, don’t we want the government to check it out?

Perhaps these comments should serve as a reminder for all Internet users: what is posted to the Internet can be found by all sorts of people, your friends and your enemies.