LANGLEY, Va., Nov. 8 (UPI) -- A reported CIA-AT&T deal to get phone records of suspected terrorists outside the United States would be "completely lawful and proper," an AT&T spokesman said.
"We do not comment on questions concerning national security," company spokesman Mark Siegel told United Press International when asked to respond to a New York Times report the CIA pays AT&T Inc. more than $10 million a year to help the agency identify alleged terrorists overseas.
The Times said under the voluntary business arrangement the CIA provides phone numbers of overseas terrorism suspects and AT&T scours its vast database, then provides call records that may help identify foreign associates of the suspects.
The database includes a vast archive of phone-call information, both foreign and domestic, that went through its network equipment, the Times said, adding the phone-call information was not limited to AT&T customers.
Most call logs AT&T provides involve foreign-to-foreign calls, U.S. officials told the Times. But they sometimes include international calls with one end in the United States.
In those cases, AT&T "masks" several digits of the phone numbers to avoid identifying identities of Americans, the officials said.
The CIA is prohibited from spying on the domestic activities of Americans.
But the agency can refer masked numbers it wants to know more about to the FBI, which can issue an administrative subpoena requiring AT&T to provide the uncensored data, the Times said.
The FBI, which handles domestic investigations, sometimes then shares information about American participants in those calls with the CIA, the officials said.
The CIA is the only independent U.S. intelligence agency, reporting to National Intelligence Director James Clapper, who also oversees the National Security Agency, which operates under the Pentagon.
The FBI operates under the Justice Department.
The officials told the Times AT&T was not under subpoena or court order to provide the information.
The alliance illustrates the collection of so-called metadata -- records of phone-call dates, duration and phone numbers, but allegedly not the content -- is not limited to the NSA, the Times said.
NSA global and domestic mass surveillance details, including the agency's relationships with giant U.S. telecommunications and Internet companies, have been leaked since June by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The CIA declined to confirm the program's existence. But a spokesman told the Times the agency's intelligence-collection activities were lawful and "subject to extensive oversight."
Siegel told UPI in an email Thursday: "In all cases, whenever any governmental entity anywhere seeks information from us, we ensure that the request and our response are completely lawful and proper. We ensure that we maintain customer information in compliance with the laws of the United States and other countries where information may be maintained."
Concerning the reported annual payment of more than $10 million to AT&T from the CIA, Siegel said, "Like all telecom providers, we routinely charge governments for producing the information provided."
He said AT&T, which provides cellphone and landline phone service, would offer no details beyond its statement.
UPI sought confirmation or denial of the alliance, whether the Times story was fully accurate and whether any other agency had similar arrangements with the telecommunications giant.