Leaked documents tell what NSA spy programs do

Revelations about the U.S. National Security Agency spy programs have appeared in German and Dutch magazines.  The articles’ source appears to be former NSA contractor and now whistleblower Edward Snowden.

On Dec. 29, the German magazine Der Spiegel published a lengthy article titled “Documents Reveal Top NSA Hacking Unit.” The article describes a secret NSA computer hacking unit called the Office of Tailored Access Operations.  A former head of TAO wrote a document urging her bosses at the NSA to “support Computer Network Attacks as an integrated part of military operations.”

To do this, she wrote, TAO needs to acquire “pervasive, persistent access on the global network.”  The Der Spiegel article states that “the NSA hackers have been given a government mandate for their work.”

Some of the NSA’s TAO operations have included:

Operation WHITETAMALE — the Mexican Government Secretariat of Public Security was penetrated. Its email accounts were downloaded, and then the entire network, including employee addresses and video surveillance records.

Operation STUXNET — jointly developed by U.S. and Israeli agents, a computer “worm” was created to sabotage the Iranian nuclear program.

XKEYSCORE spying tool — a program designed to “fish” computer “crash” reports to Microsoft to gain access to those computers and intercept all of its Internet traffic.

QUANTUMTHEORY — a “toolbox” of computer “malware” programs, which are designed to not only monitor but also misdirect target computer systems.  One of these programs — QUANTUMINSERT — was used, according to the article, “to attack the computers of employees at partly government-held Belgian telecommunications company Belgacom.” The same programs were used to attack the OPEC computer network in Vienna, which meant that the U.S. “gained unhindered access to valuable economic data using these tools.”

The article also describes how the NSA’s TAO has its own covert servers, known by the codename FOXACID.  Targeted users are directed to fake websites on these servers, from which malware is transferred onto their computers.

SEA-ME-WE-4 — an operation designed to penetrate the largely underwater computer cable system. As the article states, with the help of a “website masquerade operation,” the agency was able to “gain access to the consortium’s management website and collected Layer 2 network information that shows the circuit mapping for significant portions of the network.”

Sharpening the tools of oppression

Not satisfied with installing malware to remotely monitor and attack computers and networks, the NSA actually intercepts ordered computers before they are delivered, opens them up, installs both hardware and software, closes them up and resumes delivery.  They call this “interdiction.”  The NSA considers this among “the most productive operations” that allow TAO to obtain access to networks “around the world.”

A Dutch magazine published an article in November exposing another NSA program used to download information from cell phones — the Apple iPhones are said to be particularly vulnerable to this.  Contact lists and other private information are being fed into the NSA databases.

Clearly the NSA spy program is not simply a case of an expanding government bureaucracy. It is designed to serve the ruthless competitive goals of the largest U.S. banks and corporations. That is, of course, consistent with all the activities of the capitalist government.  And it can and almost certainly is used against peoples’ movements around the world.

Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald, who wrote the first stories based on materials from Snowden, pointed out in an interview with democracynow.org that while the U.S. government has attacked the Chinese government for conducting electronic spying and placing spyware hardware and software on the computers that it sells, it has not proven these charges.  However, the U.S. NSA expanding spyware programs are doing this very thing on a massive scale.

Revelations of the NSA spy programs have generated public outrage.  With growing resistance to the capitalist crisis both here and abroad, it is clear that the U.S. is sharpening its tools of repression. This NSA campaign of electronic warfare must be stopped now!

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