US gov has fibre optic spying deals with foreign telcos

The US government has managed to sign deals with foreign fibre companies that allow it to spy on other nations.

In a lengthy feature, the Washington Post revealed during months of private talks, a team of lawyers from the FBI and the departments of Defence, Justice and Homeland Security demanded that one Asian company maintain what amounted to an internal corporate cell of American citizens with government clearances.

This involved ensuring surveillance requests got fulfilled quickly and confidentially.

It was called a “Network Security Agreement,” and it was signed in September 2003 by Global Crossing, becoming a model for other deals over the past decade.

The agreements do not authorise spying, but make sure that when US government agencies seek access to the massive amounts of data flowing through their networks, the companies have systems in place to provide it.

The foreign companies are practically forced into the deal because US spooks can order the FCC to forbid them cable licences.

In deals involving a foreign company, the FCC has held up approval for many months while the squadron of lawyers – dubbed Team Telecom – developed security agreements that went beyond what’s required by the laws governing electronic eavesdropping.

For example, the security agreement for Global Crossing, whose fibre-optic network connected 27 nations and four continents and required the company to have a “Network Operations Centre” on US soil could be visited by US officials.

All surveillance requests had to be handled by US citizens screened by the government and sworn to secrecy. A company’s executives and directors were not allowed to know the information being shared.