Report: CIA pays AT&T for international call data

The carrier turns over information about international calls on its network under a voluntary contract, The New York Times says

AT&T supplies information on international calls that travel over its network, including ones that start or end in the U.S., under a voluntary contract with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, The New York Times reported Thursday.

The CIA pays the carrier more than US$10 million annually for the data, including the date, duration and numbers involved in a call, the Times said, citing unnamed government officials. The calls include ones that are made by customers of other carriers but travel partly on AT&T's network. For calls with a U.S. participant, AT&T doesn't tell the CIA the identity of the U.S. caller and masks several digits of the domestic number, the report said.

The CIA isn't allowed to conduct domestic spying. However, the agency can hand over the masked numbers to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which can subpoena AT&T for the uncensored data, the Times said. The FBI, in turn, sometimes shares information with the CIA about the U.S. participant in a call.

The latest report is likely to heighten concerns about the U.S. government's surveillance of voice and data communications around the world. Disclosures made by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden starting earlier this year have helped to spark calls for reform of surveillance practices and rankled several U.S. allies.

In an emailed statement, the CIA said it doesn't comment on alleged intelligence sources or methods.

"The CIA protects the nation and upholds the privacy rights of Americans by ensuring that its intelligence collection activities are focused on acquiring foreign intelligence and counterintelligence in accordance with U.S. laws," said Dean Boyd, director of the CIA Office of Public Affairs. The agency is subject to oversight from multiple entities, he said.

An AT&T spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags U.S. Central Intelligence AgencyGovernment use of ITtelecommunicationCarriersat&tsecuritygovernmentprivacy

More about FBIFederal Bureau of InvestigationIDGLawsonNational Security Agency

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Stephen Lawson

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts