AT&T’s imposing, aging beige box of a building in Old East Dallas is apparently one of eight locations throughout the country that the National Security Agency is using to monitor “billions of emails, phone calls, and online chats,” according to reporting by The Intercept.
The NSA partners with telecom companies to use their existing physical infrastructure to conduct spying operations. AT&T is one of those. The eight locations the website identified are major pieces of connective tissue for the corporation. Inside contains infrastructure that processes emails and phone calls and browser requests. The Intercept refers to these eight as the “common backbone” for AT&T’s whole operation. The company even sells some of its bandwidth to providers like Sprint when their systems become overloaded, allowing in traffic from outside sources. All of which makes these sites particularly of interest to the NSA.
By monitoring what it calls the “peering circuits” at the eight sites, the spy agency can collect “not only AT&T’s data, they get all the data that’s interchanged between AT&T’s network and other companies,” according to Mark Klein, a former AT&T technician who worked with the company for 22 years. It is an efficient point to conduct internet surveillance, Klein said, “because the peering links, by the nature of the connections, are liable to carry everybody’s traffic at one point or another during the day, or the week, or the year.”
The fortress-like building is located at 4211 Bryan Street, not too far from Baylor University Medical Center. Built in 1961, it’s among the tallest buildings in Old East Dallas. It’s somewhat dwarfed by its AT&T sister location across the street, which features 20 stories and was first built in the early 1900s before renovations decades later.
The boxy building is a total of eight stories and nearly 180,000 square feet, according to the county appraisal district. In 2014, The Dallas Observer asked whether it was the city’s (f)ugliest building. And in that story, an AT&T spokeswoman admitted that human employees only staff a quarter of the building. The rest, she said, was for “technology.”
Now we know what exactly it’s for.