If you’ve spent any time in New York, you’ve seen it: The skyscraper formerly known as the AT&T Long Lines Building at 33 Thomas Street in Lower Manhattan. Whereas other skyscrapers light up when night falls, the Long Lines Building stays dark, a pitch-black cutout in an otherwise glittering skyline. While other iconic New York buildings are shining towers of glass, this one is all dull-gray concrete, 29 floors and no windows.
For most New Yorkers, the Long Lines Building is just a curiosity, another pretty-ugly part of our city, easy to ignore and better for it. Now, owing to a report in the Intercept, you won’t be able to look at it the same way again.
Long-known to the public as a major communications hub, owned by AT&T and run by its local subsidiary the New York Telephone Company, thanks to NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden, we now know that the Long Lines Building is also a top-secret NSA listening station code-named TITANPOINTE.
The Long Lines Building, it turns out, is forgettable because it was designed to be forgettable. It was also designed — by the architectural firm John Carl Warnecke & Associates — to withstand a nuclear bomb, and protect 1,500 people for two weeks from toxic radiation.
In a long-form investigation, the Intercept was able to combine revelations about the NSA’s surveillance program made public in Edward Snowden’s leak “together with architectural plans, public records, and interviews with former AT&T employees” to bring to light this secret hub of international espionage hiding in plain sight.
According to the report, “the code name TITANPOINTE features dozens of times in the NSA documents, often in classified reports about surveillance operations,” and often in partnership with another code name, LITHIUM, already known to be AT&T.
AT&T’s partnership with U.S. government surveillance programs is already well-known.
According to former AT&T engineers with knowledge of the program, the building is home to one of the United States’ major “gateway switches,” which routes international calls from the United States to countries all over the world.
Top-secret NSA memos leaked by Snowden seem to suggest that the NSA has been able to listen in to these calls directly from a secret site within the building. If these revelations are true, the Long Lines Building is also likely the major venue where now infamous surveillance programs targeting the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, and close U.S. allies like Germany and Japan were staged.
Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the liberty and national-security program at the Brennan Center for Justice, told the Intercept:
This is yet more proof that our communications service providers have become, whether willingly or unwillingly, an arm of the surveillance state. The NSA is presumably operating under authorities that enable it to target foreigners, but the fact that it is so deeply embedded in our domestic communications infrastructure should tip people off that the effects of this kind of surveillance cannot be neatly limited to non-Americans.
It looks like big brother has been living in New York City all along. He just has a really ugly apartment.