AT&T helped US NSA in spying on Internet traffic: NY Times

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Telecommunications powerhouse AT&T Inc has provided extensive assistance to the U.S. National Security Agency as the spy agency conducts surveillance on huge volumes of Internet traffic passing through the United States, the New York Times reported on Saturday, citing newly disclosed NSA documents.

The newspaper reported that the company gave technical assistance to the NSA in carrying out a secret court order allowing wiretapping of all Internet communications at the headquarters of the United Nations, an AT&T customer.

SEE MORE: Cybersecurity expert reveals the biggest threats facing the US

The documents date from 2003 to 2013 and were provided by fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the Times reported.

The company helped the spy agency in a broad range of classified activities, the newspaper reported.

The documents describe how the NSA's working relationship with AT&T has been particularly important, enabling the agency to conduct surveillance, under various legal rules, of international and foreign-to-foreign Internet communications that passed through network hubs in the United States.

See more images of the debate surrounding the NSA's wiretapping:

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AT&T helped US NSA in spying on Internet traffic: NY Times
NSA former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden is seen via live video link from Russia on a computer screen during a parliamentary hearing on the subject of 'Improving the protection of whistleblowers', on June 23, 2015, at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. Snowden, who has been granted asylum in Russia, is being sought by Washington which has branded him a hacker and a traitor who endangered lives by revealing the extent of the NSA spying program. AFP PHOTO / FREDERICK FLORIN (Photo credit should read FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 01: U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) prepares to do a live interview with FOX News in the Russell Senate Office Building rotunda on Capitol Hill June 1, 2015 in Washington, DC. In protest of the National Security Agency's sweeping program to collect U.S. citizens' telephone metadata, Paul blocked an extension of some parts of the USA PATRIOT Act, allowing them to lapse at 12:01 a.m. Monday. The Senate will continue to work to restore the lapsed authorities by amending a House version of the bill and getting it to President Obama later this week. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 01: U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) does a live interview with FOX News in the Russell Senate Office Building rotunda on Capitol Hill June 1, 2015 in Washington, DC. In protest of the National Security Agency's sweeping program to collect U.S. citizens' telephone metadata, Paul blocked an extension of some parts of the USA PATRIOT Act, allowing them to lapse at 12:01 a.m. Monday. The Senate will continue to work to restore the lapsed authorities by amending a House version of the bill and getting it to President Obama later this week. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 31: The U.S. Capitol is illuminated at dusk, May 31, 2015 in Washington, DC. The National Security Agency's authority to collect bulk telephone data is set to expire June 1, unless the Senate can come to an agreement to extend the surveillance programs. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 4: Larry Klayman (C), of the political advocacy group Freedom Watch, holds a news conference with Charles Strange (L) and Mary Ann Strange on the steps of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit November 4, 2014 in Washington, DC. The Stranges, who joined the class action lawsuit, allege that their phones were tapped when they began questioning the circumstances around the death of their son, a Navy SEAL killed in Afghanistan in 2011. The DC Circuit Court held an oral argument over the National Security Agency's bulk collection of phone records. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 4: Larry Klayman (2R), of the political advocacy group Freedom Watch, ends a news conference with Charles Strange (2L) and Mary Ann Strange (C) on the steps of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit November 4, 2014 in Washington, DC. The Stranges, who joined the class action lawsuit, allege that their phones were tapped when they began questioning the circumstances around the death of their son, a Navy SEAL killed in Afghanistan in 2011. The DC Circuit Court held an oral argument over the National Security Agency's bulk collection of phone records. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 12: U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) arrives in front of U.S. District Court to announce the filing of a class action lawsuit against the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander and FBI Director James Comey. Paul said he filed the lawsuit to stop NSA surveillance of U.S. phone records because Obama has Òpublicly refused to stop a clear and continuing violation of the 4th amendment.Ó (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 4: (L -R) Freedom Watch representatives Brandon Wheatley, Dina James and Larry Klayman talk outside of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit November 4, 2014 in Washington, DC. The DC Circuit Court held an oral argument over the National Security Agency's bulk collection of phone records. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)
FILE - In this April 7, 2015 file photo, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. holds up his cell phone as he speaks before announcing the start of his presidential campaign, in Louisville, Ky. The Justice Department warned lawmakers that the National Security Agency (NSA) will have to wind down its bulk collection of Americans' phone records by the end of the week if Congress fails to reauthorize the Patriot Act. The Republican divisions over the issue was on stark display in the Senate on Wednesday as Paul, a candidate for president, stood on the floor and spoke at length about his opposition to NSA spying. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 11: Admiral Michael Rogers, commander of U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency, speaks at George Washington University May 11, 2015 in Washington, DC. The George Washington University's Center for Cyber and Homeland Security held a discussion on the state of cybersecurity threats to the United States. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, left, and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., ride back back to their offices following roll call votes on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday night, Nov. 18, 2014. Polar opposites on most issues, Cruz and Franken were in agreement when both voted "yes" on a bill to end the bulk collection of American phone records by the National Security Agency, although the measure failed 58-42. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 13, 2015. The House debates and votes for final passage on NSA Surveillance legislation, known as the USA Freedom Act. The measure seeks to codify President Barack Obama's proposal to end the NSA's collection of domestic calling records. It would allow the agency to request certain records held by the telephone companies under a court order in terrorism investigations. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio arrives for a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 13, 2015. The House debates and votes for final passage on NSA Surveillance legislation, known as the USA Freedom Act. The measure seeks to codify President Barack Obama's proposal to end the NSA's collection of domestic calling records. It would allow the agency to request certain records held by the telephone companies under a court order in terrorism investigations. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio listens during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 13, 2015. The House debates and votes for final passage on NSA Surveillance legislation, known as the USA Freedom Act. The measure seeks to codify President Barack Obama's proposal to end the NSA's collection of domestic calling records. It would allow the agency to request certain records held by the telephone companies under a court order in terrorism investigations. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio listens during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 13, 2015. The House debates and votes for final passage on NSA Surveillance legislation, known as the USA Freedom Act. The measure seeks to codify President Barack Obama's proposal to end the NSA's collection of domestic calling records. It would allow the agency to request certain records held by the telephone companies under a court order in terrorism investigations. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 11: Admiral Michael Rogers, commander of U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency, speaks at George Washington University May 11, 2015 in Washington, DC. The George Washington University's Center for Cyber and Homeland Security held a discussion on the state of cybersecurity threats to the United States. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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AT&T installed surveillance equipment in at least 17 of its U.S. Internet hubs, far more than competitor Verizon Communications Inc, the Times reported. AT&T engineers also were the first to use new surveillance technologies invented by the NSA, the Times reported.

"This is a partnership, not a contractual relationship," according to one NSA document describing the link between the agency and the company.

AT&T's "corporate relationships provide unique accesses to other telecoms and I.S.P.s," or Internet service providers, according to another NSA document.

AT&T started in 2011 to provide the NSA more than 1.1 billion domestic cellphone calling records daily after "a push to get this flow operational prior to the 10th anniversary of 9/11," referring to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, the Times reported.

AT&T's providing of foreign-to-foreign Internet traffic has been especially important to the NSA because large amounts of the world's Internet communications pass across U.S. cables, the Times reported. The company gave access to contents of transiting email traffic years before Verizon started in March 2013, the Times reported.

Asked to comment on the Times report, AT&T spokesman Brad Burns told Reuters by email: "We do not voluntarily provide information to any investigating authorities other than if a person's life is in danger and time is of the essence. For example, in a kidnapping situation we could provide help tracking down called numbers to assist law enforcement."

Burns said AT&T would have nothing further to say on the report.

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