DEA agents – or AT&T employees?

For at least six years, law enforcement officials working on a counternarcotics program have had routine access, using subpoenas, to an enormous AT&T database that contains the records of decades of Americans’ phone calls — parallel to but covering a far longer time than the National Security Agency’s hotly disputed collection of phone call logs.

The Hemisphere Project, a partnership between federal and local drug officials and AT&T that has not previously been reported, involves an extremely close association between the government and the telecommunications giant.

The government pays AT&T to place its employees in drug-fighting units around the country. Those employees sit alongside Drug Enforcement Administration agents and local detectives and supply them with the phone data from as far back as 1987.

The project comes to light at a time of vigorous public debate over the proper limits on government surveillance and on the relationship between government agencies and communications companies. It offers the most significant look to date at the use of such large-scale data for law enforcement, rather than for national security.

The scale and longevity of the data storage appears to be unmatched by other government programs, including the N.S.A.’s gathering of phone call logs under the Patriot Act. The N.S.A. stores the data for nearly all calls in the United States, including phone numbers and time and duration of calls, for five years.

Hemisphere covers every call that passes through an AT&T switch — not just those made by AT&T customers — and includes calls dating back 26 years, according to Hemisphere training slides bearing the logo of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Some four billion call records are added to the database every day, the slides say; technical specialists say a single call may generate more than one record. Unlike the N.S.A. data, the Hemisphere data includes information on the locations of callers.

The slides were given to The New York Times by Drew Hendricks, a peace activist in Port Hadlock, Wash. He said he had received the PowerPoint presentation, which is unclassified but marked “Law enforcement sensitive,” in response to a series of public information requests to West Coast police agencies.

The program was started in 2007, according to the slides, and has been carried out in great secrecy.

“All requestors are instructed to never refer to Hemisphere in any official document,” one slide says. A search of the Nexis database found no reference to the program in news reports or Congressional hearings.

The Obama administration acknowledged the extraordinary scale of the Hemisphere database and the unusual embedding of AT&T employees in government drug units in three states.

But they said the project, which has proved especially useful in finding criminals who discard cellphones frequently to thwart government tracking, employed routine investigative procedures used in criminal cases for decades and posed no novel privacy issues.

Crucially, they said, the phone data is stored by AT&T, and not by the government as in the N.S.A. program. It is queried for phone numbers of interest mainly using what are called “administrative subpoenas,” those issued not by a grand jury or a judge but by a federal agency, in this case the D.E.A.

Relying on one of our royal corporations to store and dole out information on every citizen smacks of one more sci-fi prediction come true.



  1. noname says:

    Potheads are terrorist, what do you expect!

  2. Mextli says:

    Another blank check.

    Report to Congress on the Use of Administrative Subpoena Authorities by Executive Branch Agencies and Entities http://justice.gov/archive/olp/rpt_to_congress.htm

  3. noname says:

    The picture was taken during a government sponsored pedro house warming party, where the government insisted on inspecting pedro latest Mexico shipment of antipsychotic medications.

    Subsequent pictures show pedro pissing on himself, sobbing he is sorry and wasn’t on his meds when he made his crazy threats against Obama and now he really luvs chocolate Obama and vanilla dallas!

  4. Dallas says:

    I’m somewhat outraged at this. Some of those conversations were very personal.

  5. msbpodcast says:

    Its the pretense that get to me.

    Why don’t they just get their shit together, admit it once and for all, and stoop all this pussy-footing around.

    Yeah their have their own agendas but we could make billions around them and still make them happy.

    Its our data, about us, stop trying to pretend its NOT and give us access to it.

    • Dallas says:

      Don’t forget to update your facebook profile that you once visited France , but not Denmark.

      • msbpodcast says:

        I don’t have a facebook profile worth a crap, but I have been to both countries. French and Danish women both have things to teach those who can afford it, and they were only too glad to teach me. 🙂

        But what about my point?

        • Dallas says:

          I’m not entirely sure what you’re talking about or advocating.

          If you want access to the data they collected about you, I can support that. You can go in there and make edits. “I swear to she looked at least 14”

  6. Cap'n Kangaroo says:

    I’m not really surprised by this. And considering Smith v. Maryland (1979) Supreme Court ruling, I don’t believe the DEA even needs an administrative subpoena for the phone numbers. They may go that route just to allow AT&T the public relations defense of saying they are only doing it under subpoena.

  7. MikeN says:

    You got the headline wrong. It’s supposed to be:
    AT&T saves decades of call records for the eiDEArd

  8. AdmFubar says:

    the new slogan for these privacy-less times

    you’ve got mail!
    and the nsa has it too!

  9. sargasso_c says:

    Turning customers into products, since 1987.

  10. Tim says:

    They are all fuckbags, to a man. DEA has never been anything but corporate *muscle* to ensure society embraces the filth of industry over agrarian food, fuel, fiber, and medicinals.

    ATT the same thing. Does anyone even actually *know* an ATT employee?? If so, press them on this issue to see how easy it is for compartmentalized liars to dodge the question.

    Snitches, all of them — Like the guys who come to clean carpets. Why would anyone have such lowlifes in their homes?? Usually, they are called out to clean up some suicide brains or puke in a rental. Mmm, Mmmm, I want that brush on my floors to flaunt taudry *clean* in any unlikely visitors’ face.

    I never did trust them — creepy fucks got to have two trucks come out on the simplest of rolls and sit there all day with the little orange cones, afterwards. Putting a telescope into their van reveals 12~15 little screens look like animated gifs and include the very three of them you have open in real-time. And they reach in and fuck with the firmware on your router to cover the suck.

    Fake, plastic fuckbags that pride themselves on leaching off everyone because it used to be pricey to dress up in a suit and listen to people talk on the phone.

  11. Captain Obvious says:

    And Microsoft buys Nokia for about 7 Instagrams. All the major mobile OS makers now make their own hardware.


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