NSA’s Top Hacking Unit
by Stephen Lendman
On December 29, Der Spiegel headlined “Inside TAO: Documents Reveal Top NSA Hacking Unit.”
It’s “considered to be (its) top secret weapon.” Its covert network “infiltrates computers around the world and even intercepts shipping deliveries to plant back doors in electronics ordered by” whomever it targets.
More on this below. Snowden documents remain the gift that keeps on giving. Doing so made him a world hero. Washington calls exposing wrongdoing illegal. Lawlessness is official US policy.
Since 1993, Britain’s Channel 4 broadcast an alternative Christmas message. It’s an antidote to Queen Elizabeth’s Royal Christmas Message.
In 1932, King George began them on radio. In 1957, Queen Elizabeth delivered the first televised broadcast. It’s typical royal mumbo jumbo. Why Brits tune in they’ll have to explain.
Snowden’s comments are important. Orwell’s warnings “are nothing compared to what we have available today,” he said.
“We have sensors in our pockets that track us everywhere we go. Think about what this means for the privacy of the average person.”
Children “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. (It’s) what allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be.”
Snowden wants ordinary people to decide how governments monitor them. “All I wanted was for the public to be able to have a say in how they’re governed,” he explained.
He’s doing it by revealing the extent of NSA spying.
“The conversation occurring today will determine the amount of trust we can place both in the technology that surrounds us and the government that regulates it,” he said.
“Together we can find a better balance, end mass surveillance, and remind the government that if it really wants to know how we feel, asking is always cheaper than spying.”
“I already won,” he said. “As soon as the journalists were able to work, everything that I had been trying to do was validated.”
“Because, remember, I didn’t want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself.”
“All I wanted was for the public to be able to have a say in how they are governed.”
Not as long as NSA has its way. Not while Congress and US administrations let it. Previous articles discussed its Office of Tailored Operations (TAO).
It’s top secret. It has over 1,000 military and civilian hackers, intelligence analysts, targeting specialists, computer hardware and software designers, and electrical engineers.
It identifies computer systems and supporting telecommunications networks to attack.
It successfully penetrated Chinese computer and telecom systems. It’s been doing it for over 15 years. It does the same thing globally.
Most NSA employees and officials know little or nothing about TAO. Its operations are extraordinarily sensitive. Only those needing to know are kept informed.
Special security clearances are required to gain access to its top secret work spaces. Armed guards keep others out.
Entering requires a correct six digit code. Retinal scanner checks are used. TAO targets foreign computer systems.
It collects hard to get intelligence. It does it by hacking, cracking passwords, compromising computer security systems, stealing hard drive data, and copying all subsequent emails and text messages.
TAO personnel penetrate, steal, damage, destroy or otherwise compromise targeted sites. It’s perhaps the most important component of NSA’s Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) Directorate.
It lets NSA get information not otherwise available. It can do it without being detected.
Der Spiegel called TAO NSA’s ‘top operative unit.” It’s “something like a squad of plumbers,” it said. They’re “called in when normal access to a target is blocked.”
They’re “involved in many sensitive operations conducted by American intelligence agencies.” They range from counterintelligence to cyberwar to espionage.
Snowden’s documents revealed TAO sophistication. It exploits technical weaknesses. It does so secretly, discreetly and efficiently.
It gets the “ungettable.” According to a former unnamed TAO chief:
“It is not about the quantity produced but the quality of intelligence that is important,” she said. (It’s gotten) some of the most significant intelligence our country has ever seen.”
It “access(es) our very hardest targets. (It) needs to continue to grow, and must lay the foundation for integrated Computer Network Operations.”
It must “support Computer Network Attacks as an integrated part of military operations. (It has to acquire) pervasive, persistent access on the global network.”
Its mandate is conducting aggressive attacks. Through the middle of the last decade, it accessed 258 targets. It did so in 89 countries globally. In 2010, it conducted 279 operations.
It penetrated protected networks of targeted world leaders. It did so against European telecommunications companies.
It cracked Blackberry’s encrypted BES email servers. One document said doing so required “sustained TAO operation(al)” effort.
In 1997, TAO was created. At the time, only 2% of the world’s population had Internet access. It was a year before Google was founded. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube weren’t around. Yahoo was a fledgling operation.
TAO personnel work at NSA’s Fort Meade, MD headquarters. They’re in San Antonio, TX. They’re in other locations. They’re housed in their own wings. They’re separate from other NSA operations.
Their match Star Trek. They do it for real. They go where no one went before. They do it round-the-clock. They do it globally.
They find ways to hack into global communications systems. They penetrate the most heavily protected ones.
They do what never before was possible. They do it secretly. They do it without being detected.
TAO employs new kinds of people. They’re much younger than other NSA personnel. They’re expert hackers. “Their job is breaking into, manipulating, and exploiting computer networks,” said Der Spiegel.
They resemble geeks. They act like them. NSA director Keith Alexander is involved in recruiting. He attends major hacker conferences.
Sometimes it’s in formal military attire. Other times, he wears jeans and t-shirts. It’s to look and act like the geeks he’s recruiting. It works.
TAO has operations in Wahiawa, Hawaii, Fort Gordon, GA, Buckley Air Force Base near Denver, Fort Meade, MD, San Antonio, TX and a liaison office near Frankfurt, Germany.
It’s the European Security Operations Center (ESOC) “Dagger Complex. It’s at a US military compound in Griesheim. It’s a suburb of Darmstadt near Frankfort.
It’s secured by a tall wire fence. It’s topped with barbed wire. It’s in relatively modest buildings. They’re surrounded by green space. It’s for added security.
It’s one of Hesse state’s best protected sites. NSA’s European Cryptologic Center (ECC) is headquartered there. A 2011 NSA report calls it the “largest analysis and productivity (site) in Europe.”
Information obtained ends up in Obama’s daily briefings. He gets them on average twice weekly.
NSA considers Germany a prime target. Espionage is prioritized. So is German foreign policy.
Weeks after NSA spying on Angela Merkel was revealed, Berlin still awaits answers on what it’s up to in Germany.
Documents Der Spiegel saw revealed intense NSA spying. Its personnel consider German intelligence gotten a “success story.”
Tons of information were collected. Former NSA director Michael Hayden told Der Spiegel: “(T)he damage for the German-American relationship is huge.”
Post-9/11, he tried working cooperatively with Germany’s BND intelligence, he said. “I tried to avoid acting as an occupier,” he claimed.
“We extended our cooperation.” It’s now jeopardized. He admits NSA espionage. “We steal secrets,” he said. “We’re number one in (doing) it.”
NSA isn’t malicious, he claims. “We steal stuff to make you safe, not to make you rich.” NSA steals everything it gets its hands on. It compromises public safety. It does so globally.
Former NSA employee/whistleblower Thomas Drake said “September 11 was the trigger that (made) Germany a target of high priority.”
Powerful tools are used to do whatever NSA wishes. To infiltrate wherever it wants to go. To steal as much as it can about virtually everything. NSA director Alexander says “get it all.”
Der Spiegel called its Texas operations “uniquely impressive.” The Texas Cryptologic Center employs less than 60 TAO specialists.
By 2015, plans are to increase staff to about 270. Another 85 specialists work in the Requirements & Targeting division. In 2008, they numbered 13.
Software developers are expected to increase from three in 2008 to 38 in 2015. San Antonio-based operations target Middle East Countries, Cuba, Venezuela, Columbia and Mexico.
According to Washington’s planned intelligence operations, around 85,000 computers worldwide were expected to be infiltrated by year end 2013. Most involve TAO operations.
Cyber criminals run them. They hack into computer systems. They send emails disguised as spam. They contain links directing users to virus-infected web sites.
They implant NSA malware this way. They do it without targeted subjects knowing.
A major TAO goal is “subvert(ing) endpoint devices.” They include “servers, workstations, firewalls, routers, handsets, phone switches, (and) SCADA systems, etc.”
According to Der Spiegel:
“SCADAs are industrial control systems used in factories, as well as in power plants…(The) most well-known and notorious use of this type of attack was the development of Stuxnet…”
In spring 2010, Iranian intelligence discovered its malware contamination. It infected its Bushehr nuclear facility. At the time, operations were halted indefinitely.
Israel was responsible. So was Washington. Had the facility gone online infected, Iran’s entire electrical power grid could have been shut down.
One of NSA’s “most productive operations” is its direct “interdiction.” Goods are rerouted from suppliers to secret TAO locations.
According to Der Spiegel:
TAO personnel “carefully open…package(s) in order to load malware onto the electronics, or even install hardware components that can provide backdoor access for the intelligence agencies.”
“All subsequent steps can then be conducted from the comfort of a remote computer.” Operations are conducted globally.
NSA targets virtually everyone. Its ultimate goal is leaving no one behind. Most important are “entire networks and network providers,” said Der Spiegel.
Fiber optic cables handling global Internet traffic “along the world’s ocean floors” are prime targets.
NSA responded to Der Spiegel’s query. It lied saying TAO “is a unique national asset that is on the front lines of enabling NSA to defend the nation and its allies.”
Domestic spying has nothing to do with national security. It’s for control. It’s global espionage for economic advantage. It’s to be one up on foreign competitors.
It’s for information used advantageously in trade, political, and military relations. It’s lawlessly obtained. It’s unconstitutional. It doesn’t matter.
NSA is one of many US rogue operations. America’s 15 other intelligence agencies operate the same way.
Congress, administrations and federal courts are worst of all. They function lawlessly. They legitimize the illegitimate.
They threaten humanity in the process. Imagine what they plan this year. Expect worse conditions perhaps than earlier. Rogue states operate that way. America is by far the worst.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His new book is titled “Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity.”
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.
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