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.