TPM Reader CM reminds us that phone companies are spooky places …
I’m certainly as mystified as anyone about the turn the USAT story has taken, though I do agree that the telcos’ statements are probably parsed exceedingly fine — and probably turn on the meaning of terms such as “provided” and “customer phone data.” Voice service was never my rice bowl, but I’m not convinced that letting NSA run SS7 taps to pull CDRs wouldn’t skate past their chosen verbiage.
However, as far as security clearances go, the answer is simple: telcos are filled with former intelligence community types doing engineering and software development. During my time as a consultant for CLECs (on data, not POTS, service), I worked with many ex-NSA employees and former CIA employees and contractors — their backgrounds suited them for the kind of intensive, real-time sorting and processing of the large volume of data telcos produce. (At one company, we had so many ex-Community and NASA architects that we could have started our own orbital remote-sensing project.) Any of them could easily qualify for codeword clearance and read into the NSA program/s, even if company higher-ups could not.
As long as we’re on the subject, I’m getting hints that the third party scenario mentioned below is where we’re headed.