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NSA spy hub allegedly discovered in downtown Seattle

This nondescript building in Seattle is the location of an NSA spy hub, according to Ryan Gallagher. (Andrew Lanier / KIRO Radio)

There are a handful of National Security Agency spy hubs alleged to be scattered around the United States. And one is apparently located in downtown Seattle.

“It highlights just how deeply embedded all of this actually is in terms of this being on US territory,” Journalist Ryan Gallagher told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross. “Of course, the NSA is supposed to be a foreign intelligence agency, so it shows the extent it relies upon facilities on American soil within US telecommunication networks.”

According to Gallagher’s story on The Intercept, there are eight hidden NSA spy hubs in US Cities — buildings where the NSA monitors phone calls, emails, and other online communications within the United States. The buildings are generally tied to AT&T operations. One is located at 3rd Avenue and Seneca Street in downtown Seattle.

It’s a very nondescript building. If you were to imagine a generic structure that would be easily forgettable, this would be it. Its gray exterior offers a line of small windows, little defining character, and a single door with signs for AT&T and CenturyLink posted nearby. The building is owned by the Qwest Corporation, a subsidiary of CenturyLink and AT&T has operations in it, according to the report.

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The Intercept notes this Seattle hub is a mere 25 miles away from an intercontinental undersea cable known as Pacific Crossing-1. That cable generally carries information between Japan and the US.

Gallagher says the Seattle building, and the seven others he identifies are pieces of the NSA spy puzzle.

“In this case, we have identified eight buildings across the United States that are owned or operated in part by AT&T,” he said. “We have documents and sources and some other evidence that indicate these are parts of a large-scale National Security Agency surveillance program that has been operating for a number of years, sweeping up communications from the internet, and aims at foreign communications that pass through the United States. But some of those will include Americans’ communications also.”

NSA spy system

Gallagher said the NSA spy system works by collecting information sent over the internet and storing it. When a specific concern arises with someone, they can search back through the information. It’s more about sifting through billions of emails and other communications. By tapping into AT&T’s system, the government can monitor the telecompany’s system, and any other company it communicates with.

“The quantities we are talking about here are billions of emails,” Gallagher said. “A human being cannot possibly read all those. So it’s a case of using computer systems to almost like Google to search through it.”

Gallagher notes that the government has been found to have been monitoring American citizens through such systems, especially after 9-11; not just foreign communications.

“So a lot of what they do actually does implicate Americans,” Gallagher said. “If they are tapping international communication if you have family overseas, or something like that, it could be swept up in the dragnet of it. It’s almost impossible for them to limit it.”

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