On Friday, Dec. 1, 2016, a website known as The Intercept released some unsettling news about the AT&T building located on 33 Thomas Street in New York City. Long thought to be the location of a large switchboard, the building was found to also be one of our nation’s most important National Security Agency surveillance sites--a monitoring hub used to tap into phone calls, internet data, and faxes from all over the world.
Ever since its construction in 1969, the building--recently discovered to be code-named TITANPOINTE--was believed to be one of the most important telecommunications hubs in the United States and the world’s largest center for processing long-distance phone calls (run by the telephone company AT&T). This explained its intimidating-looking structure: reaching 550 feet into the New York skyline, it is made of concrete and granite, and has no windows whatsoever, and is capable of withstanding an atomic blast. The building essentially is a fortress designed to safeguard the powerful computers, cables, and switchboards it houses.
Its structure and the impossibility to get a glimpse inside has contributed to the sense of mystery and uncertainty that have captured the attention of passersby, even though it is common to keep people in the dark about a building containing necessary and very important telecommunications equipment. The investigation led by The Intercept was able to shed some light on the building’s primary usage.
In its investigations, the organization was able to contact a former AT&T engineer who had worked in the building. The individual had told The Intercept that inside the massive structure was a major international “gateway switch” which is able to route phone calls between that US and other countries. A series of top-secret NSA memos were also discovered during the course of the investigation, which suggested that the NSA had tapped into these calls from a secure place in the building that AT&T employees, in most cases, could not access. This indicates that the skyscraper is a core location for controversial NSA surveillance programs which have targeted communications of the UN and the World Bank as well as 38 other countries.