In honor of the PRISM media frenzy, this week's Document of the Week concerns Greenstar, the AT&T toll fraud surveillance system that randomly monitored some 33 million American phone calls -- and recorded 1.5 million of them -- between 1964 and 1970.
As I write in Exploding The Phone, "A single Greenstar unit would be connected to a hundred outgoing long-distance trunk lines and could simultaneously monitor five of them for fraud. [...] At its core, Greenstar looked for the presence of 2,600 Hz on a trunk line when it shouldn't be there. [...] When Greenstar detected something unusual, it took an audacious next step: it recorded the telephone call. With no warrant and with no warning to the people on the line, suspicious calls were silently preserved on spinning multitrack real-to-reel magnetic tapes." (p. 93).
In fact, when I interviewed Lou Rose in 2006 he told me that he had an actual Greenstar mag tape in storage someplace! He had gotten it from the source who leaked the Greenstar information to him in the first place. Unfortunately, when we talked, he was away from home and wasn't able to dig around and root it up for me. A pity, since that would have made a nice little bit of telephne memorabilia.
For more on Greenstar, check out:
- The full St. Louis Post-Dispatch article
- New York Times coverage of Bill Caming's testimony before Congress
- Transcript of the Greenstar Congressional hearings
- Lots of assorted articles and press coverage in the Exploding The Phone document database