US installed spy-liaison team in Global Crossing: report

09 Jul 2013

ITEM: The Washington Post has published an extensive piece on what Singapore Technologies Telemedia had to do to satisfy national security concerns by the US government over its planned buyout of Global Crossing ten years ago – namely, hire a secretive cell of Americans to facilitate surveillance requests from US intelligence agencies.

The report also tells how that security agreement became a model for similar deals involving non-US companies acquiring telecoms infrastructure, all negotiated by the same government-backed lawyer squadron (dubbed “Team Telecom”).

Background: ST Telemedia and Hutchison Telecommunications made a joint bid for Global Crossing in August 2002, after the global carrier filed for bankruptcy earlier that year. Hutchison was forced to withdraw because of US government concerns of alleged ties to the Chinese government via parent company Hutchison Whampoa and its chairman, billionaire Li Ka-shing. But even ST Telemedia raised eyebrows because of its own ties to Temasek Holdings, the investment arm of the Singapore government.

The WaPo has revealed details on the deal ST Telemedia eventually made after negotiating for months with a team of lawyers from the FBI and the departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security to ensure that the US government’s ability to conduct surveillance on Global Crossing’s fiber network went unimpeded:

Singapore Technologies Telemedia eventually agreed to a slate of concessions, including allowing half of the board of directors of a new subsidiary managing the undersea cable network to consist of American citizens with security clearances. They would oversee a head of network operations, a head of global security, a general counsel and a human resources officer — all of whom also would be U.S. citizens with security clearances. The FBI and the departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security had the power to object to any appointments to those jobs or to the directors who had to be U.S. citizens.

U.S. law already required that telecommunications companies doing business in the United States comply with surveillance requests, both domestic and international. But the security agreement established the systems to ensure that compliance and to make sure foreign governments would not gain visibility into the working of American telecommunications systems — or surveillance systems, said Andrew D. Lipman, a telecommunications lawyer who has represented Global Crossing and other firms in negotiating such deals.

In other words, ST Telemedia had to not only agree to facilitate US intelligence agencies who wanted to tap into communications going across its network, but also install a team of Americans at board level with appropriate US security clearances to make it happen – with the US government having final say over who was appointed.

Moreover, the report says, that team was sworn to secrecy – which means they were prohibited from sharing information about such requests even with Global Crossing’s own executives and directors.

All of this was dictated under a so-called “Network Security Agreement,” signed by Global Crossing in September 2003. When ST Telemedia sold Global Crossing to Level 3 in 2011 (but still retaining a minority stake), the agreement was reviewed and replaced with a new agreement with added conditions, WaPo reports.

Obviously, stories like this that cite anonymous sources should be taken with a grain of salt. On the other hand, it’s not all that surprising, given both the recent revelations involving NSA surveillance around the world, and the general paranoia of the US government over the global subsea fiber mashup in the early 00s when several other global networks were scooped up by Asian companies.

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