The world’s best cyber army doesn’t belong to Russia, by James Bamford

There’s no bigger hacker out there than the US government. From James Bamford at reuters.com:

A National Security Agency data gathering facility in Bluffdale, about 25 miles (40 km) south of Salt Lake City, Utah, December 16, 2013. REUTERS/JIM URQUHART

National attention is focused on Russian eavesdroppers’ possible targeting of U.S. presidential candidates and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Yet, leaked top-secret National Security Agency documents show that the Obama administration has long been involved in major bugging operations against the election campaigns — and the presidents — of even its closest allies.

The United States is, by far, the world’s most aggressive nation when it comes to cyberspying and cyberwarfare. The National Security Agency has been eavesdropping on foreign cities, politicians, elections and entire countries since it first turned on its receivers in 1952. Just as other countries, including Russia, attempt to do to the United States. What is new is a country leaking the intercepts back to the public of the target nation through a middleperson.

There is a strange irony in this. Russia, if it is actually involved in the hacking of the computers of the Democratic National Committee, could be attempting to influence a U.S. election by leaking to the American public the falsehoods of its leaders. This is a tactic Washington used against the Soviet Union and other countries during the Cold War.

In the 1950s, for example, President Harry S Truman created the Campaign of Truth to reveal to the Russian people the “Big Lies” of their government. Washington had often discovered these lies through eavesdropping and other espionage.

Today, the United States has morphed from a Cold War, and in some cases a hot war, into a cyberwar, with computer coding replacing bullets and bombs. Yet the American public manages to be “shocked, shocked” that a foreign country would attempt to conduct cyberespionage on the United States.

NSA operations have, for example, recently delved into elections in Mexico, targeting its last presidential campaign. According to a top-secret PowerPoint presentation leaked by former NSA contract employee Edward Snowden, the operation involved a “surge effort against one of Mexico’s leading presidential candidates, Enrique Peña Nieto, and nine of his close associates.” Peña won that election and is now Mexico’s president.

The NSA identified Peña’s cellphone and those of his associates using advanced software that can filter out specific phones from the swarm around the candidate. These lines were then targeted. The technology, one NSA analyst noted, “might find a needle in a haystack.” The analyst described it as “a repeatable and efficient” process.

The eavesdroppers also succeeded in intercepting 85,489 text messages, a Der Spiegel article noted.

Another NSA operation, begun in May 2010 and codenamed FLATLIQUID, targeted Pena’s predecessor, President Felipe Calderon. The NSA, the documents revealed, was able “to gain first-ever access to President Felipe Calderon’s public email account.”

At the same time, members of a highly secret joint NSA/CIA organization, called the Special Collection Service, are based in the U.S. embassy in Mexico City and other U.S. embassies around the world. It targets local government communications, as well as foreign embassies nearby. For Mexico, additional eavesdropping, and much of the analysis, is conducted by NSA Texas, a large listening post in San Antonio that focuses on the Caribbean, Central America and South America.

Unlike the Defense Department’s Pentagon, the headquarters of the cyberspies fills an entire secret city. Located in Fort Meade, Maryland, halfway between Washington and Baltimore, Maryland, NSA’s headquarters consists of scores of heavily guarded buildings. The site even boasts its own police force and post office.

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One response to “The world’s best cyber army doesn’t belong to Russia, by James Bamford

  1. Pingback: Normalizing Trump and the Power of Gold (showers): Love Them, They’re Liberals (An Occasional Series) | Afflict The Comfortable (The Mind of Bob Buzzanco)

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