New Reporting Indicates NSA Implants Malware in Computers Purchased Online

Democracy Now

Since the surveillance leaks initiated in June by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, it has become clear that, in the words of reporter Glenn Greenwald, “the goal of the NSA really is the elimination of privacy worldwide.” New reports continue to reveal the scope of the U.S. government’s secret surveillance system.

An article in Der Spiegel, a German newsmagazine, has now revealed details of an NSA unit known as the Office of Tailored Access Operations. The unit, based at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, defines its mission as “getting the ungettable” intelligence.

Among the NSA unit’s methods is what they call interdiction: when a targeted individual or organization orders a new computer or other electronic device, the NSA intercepts the shipping delivery and installs malware in the device, allowing the agency to, for example, log every keystroke and transmit the information to the NSA. According to the Der Spiegel report, the NSA ranked the interdiction operation as among its most productive.

Of course, the NSA does not need physical possession of a computer to access its data. Der Spiegel also reported that the NSA makes use of the error messages that are familiar to any user of Microsoft Windows. When a targeted user chooses to send an error report to Microsoft, the NSA can intercept the information, using the data to better exploit the machine.

The Death Penalty in the United States: Less Frequent, Less Supported, More Arbitrary

Reginald Griffin
Reginald Griffin was exonerated and freed from death row in Missouri in 2013. Photo: Death Penalty Information Center.

A year-end report by the Death Penalty Information Center shows that the number of death sentences and executions in the United States has dropped, and support for the death penalty reached its lowest point in 40 years.

According to the report, there were 39 executions in 2013, continuing a steady decline from a high of 98 in 1999. Meanwhile, the number of death sentences also dropped this year, to 80 from a peak of 315 in 1994 and 1996. Public support for the death penalty dropped to 60 percent, its lowest level in 40 years. Maryland abolished the death penalty in 2013, the sixth state in six years to do so.

Reginald Griffin of Missouri became the 143rd person to be exonerated from death row, an example of the potential danger of executing innocent people. Many states have been unable to establish a method of lethal injection that can meet Constitutional requirements.  With so many doubts about the death penalty, it’s no wonder that just 2 percent of U.S. counties have been responsible for the majority of executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. As a New York Times editorial points out, that fact makes the application of the death penalty that much more arbitrary.