How an obscure acro and an old Network World story helped link AT&T to NSA spying

You may have noticed a story over the weekend by Pro Publica and the New York Times that used documents provided by Edward Snowden to reveal previously unknown details of the “highly collaborative” relationship between AT&T and the NSA that enabled the latter’s controversial domestic spying program.

An aspect of the story that received only passing mention was how the reporters who wrote it connected an acronym for an obscure proprietary network configuration – SNRC -- to AT&T and the NSA in part through a 1996 story in the now-defunct print version of Network World. In essence, that acro proved to be a fingerprint confirming the connection … and its match was found thanks to the wonder that is Google Books.

The reporters first encountered SNRC in “an NSA glossary” while trying to identify the agency’s carrier partner in a surveillance program called Fairview. The glossary turned up this passage:

Someone on the reporting team somehow had the wherewithal to recognize SNRC not only as an acronym he or she didn’t recognize, but as a potential clue as to the identity of “FAIRVIEW’s Partner.”

That led to Google Books and this Network World story – AT&T reveals ANCS network underpinnings -- dated March 18 1996 and written by my former colleagues Joanie Wexler and Kevin Fogerty. It’s only in the final two paragraphs, pictured left, that SNRC is mentioned and it’s made clear that this is AT&T-specific jargon. Since the picture is tough to read, here's what it says:

There was more to confirming AT&T’s role as the Fairview partner, including the recollections of former AT&T employees and industry experts.

All in all, the story behind this story is well worth reading, even if you’re not a journalist.


Paul McNamara

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