AT&T is on the receiving end of a $10 million payout each year from the CIA in exchange for providing phone records to help with overseas counterterrorism investigations. It’s a program that the wireless provider voluntarily agrees to meaning there’s no court order involved according to a report from the New York Times.
The publication claims the CIA supplies AT&T with the phone numbers of suspected terrorists. From here, the wireless provider is able to comb their database for call records attached to a given number. These records include valuable information such as the length and date of phone calls. In the event that a call is placed to or from an American number and involved an international caller, the CIA reportedly asks AT&T to mask the identity of the US-based number for legal reasons.
In case you were wondering, the arrangement is said to be different from the tactics the NSA uses to collect phone records although they likely duplicate some of their programs. It appears to have been started sometime before 2010, was put on hold at some point then reinitiated once again.
Naturally, neither AT&T nor the CIA would confirm the existence of the partnership. An anonymous intelligence official, however, believes it makes sense for such a program to be in place. The source said the need to act without delay is often best met when the CIA has developed its own capabilities to lawfully acquire necessary foreign intelligence information.