Quote of the Week: “A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They’ll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves, an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought. And that’s a problem because privacy matters, privacy is what allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be.” …Edward Snowden
Google Earth: The NSA’s TAO, Tailored Access Operations, hacking unit is considered to be the intelligence agency’s top secret weapon. It maintains its own covert network, infiltrates computers around the world and even intercepts shipping deliveries to plant back doors in electronics ordered by those it is targeting.
By Marion Algier – Ask Marion – h/t to George King
Germany’s Der Spiegel just published a couple of articles detailing some of the latest information being uncovered by the release of documents from the trove of NSA leaker Edward Snowden. One can debate Snowden’s methods for which some consider him a hero and others a traitor, but most agree that the information he released is invaluable and something all Americans needed to know.
The most frightening of the new information may be the fact that the NSA actually intercepts some packages of commercial electronics before they arrive at their destination so that they can create “back doors” to hack into the hardware whenever they see fit.
The documents disclose that there is a “secret” elite NSA unit of hackers and computer geeks diligently working to make the USA dominate the intelligence game. The Unit is called TAO for Tailored Access Operations. The work they do is extremely important on the one hand, but should also be very worrisome for those interested in our civil liberties and the privacy of all Americans.
Eagle Rising: One of the two main buildings at the former plant has since housed a sophisticated NSA unit, one that has benefited the most from this expansion and has grown the fastest in recent years — the Office of Tailored Access Operations, or TAO. This is the NSA’s top operative unit — something like a squad of plumbers that can be called in when normal access to a target is blocked.
According to internal NSA documents viewed by SPIEGEL, these on-call digital plumbers are involved in many sensitive operations conducted by American intelligence agencies. TAO’s area of operations ranges from counterterrorism to cyber attacks to traditional espionage. The documents reveal just how diversified the tools at TAO’s disposal have become — and also how it exploits the technical weaknesses of the IT industry, from Microsoft to Cisco and Huawei, to carry out its discreet and efficient attacks.
The unit is “akin to the wunderkind of the US intelligence community,” says Matthew Aid, a historian who specializes in the history of the NSA. “Getting the ungettable” is the NSA’s own description of its duties. “It is not about the quantity produced but the quality of intelligence that is important,” one former TAO chief wrote, describing her work in a document. The paper seen by SPIEGEL quotes the former unit head stating that TAO has contributed “some of the most significant intelligence our country has ever seen.” The unit, it goes on, has “access to our very hardest targets.”
The NSA’s top-flight computer hacking department Tailored Access Operations (TAO) keeps a catalog of all of the electronic equipment that it maintains backdoor access for.
According to Snowden documents, TAO has a catalog of all the commercial equipment that carries NSA backdoors. And it’s a who’s who of a list. Storage products from Western Digital, Seagate, Maxtor and Samsung have backdoors in their firmware, firewalls from Juniper Networks have been compromised, plus networking equipment from Cisco and Huawei, and even unspecified products from Dell. TAO actually intercepts online orders of these and other electronics to bug them.
In fact, the NSA’s TAO division is constantly creating new products as hacking and spying hardware for the NSA to try out on unsuspecting users.
The international intelligence game is important for any country and especially for one who aspires to be the world’s superpower. In fact for a nation to remain a superpower, it must lead the way in intelligence, or it will lose its advantages and status. But the big question for all Americans should be, “Is it more important for the USA to remain politically dominant in the world, or for the American people to retain their freedoms and inalienable or God-given rights without the government having the ability to infringe on those rights? Obviously a balance is needed and perhaps the NSA may find a way to stay on top of the intelligence world without infringing on our basic liberties; a must or ‘We the People’ must demand change and oversight, for the illusion of safety is never as important as our individual liberty. Never!
“Those Who Trade Freedom for Security or Privacy for Safety Rarely Get (Nor Deserve) Either!” … Benjamin Franklin
Yet we have allowed our freedoms to be taken from us, or have even given it away freely, on a consistent basis at an alarming rate beginning with the Patriot Act which has led to a runaway NSA; warrentless searches; a National ID Law Takes Effect In 2014; monitoring of our phones, computers, and social sites; and cameras watching everyone practically everywhere. George Orwell himself would hardly believe it. The Elections in 2014 and 2016 will be crucial to the future of America and freedom everywhere. Get-involved my fellow Americans and choose wisely!!