NSA Unit “TAO” Seeks “Pervasive” Access to Internet

By:  Thomas R. Eddlem
NSA Unit “TAO” Seeks “Pervasive” Access to Internet

The German magazine Der Spiegel revealed extraordinary details about the NSA's TAO program December 29, which is tasked with “pervasive” penetration of the Internet and global telephone traffic.

This most aggressive division of the U.S. government's National Security Agency directly hacks into computers and telephones and is focused upon foreign governments, perhaps differing from other NSA programs that also harvest the data of American citizens

Der Spiegel quoted one TAO analyst who wrote that the goal of the program was to attain “pervasive” access to computers globally. “To succeed in this, she wrote, TAO would have to acquire ‘pervasive, persistent access on the global network.’” While Der Spiegel's story implied that the focus of the program was on foreign governments, it published no guidelines within the NSA that limited the program to foreign targets. The German investigative magazine noted that this aggressive and growing NSA branch was designed to deal the full range of federal government priorities:

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.

Investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald explained — in reaction to the Der Speigel article — that “this malware allows the NSA to literally watch every keystroke that you make, to get screen captures of what it is that you’re doing, to circumvent all forms of encryption and other barriers to your communications.”

The story noted that TAO has produced some odd side-effects for American citizens. “In January 2010, numerous homeowners in San Antonio, Texas, stood baffled in front of their closed garage doors. They wanted to drive to work or head off to do their grocery shopping, but their garage door openers had gone dead, leaving them stranded. No matter how many times they pressed the buttons, the doors didn't budge.... Officials at the agency were forced to admit that one of the NSA's radio antennas was broadcasting at the same frequency as the garage door openers.” Why the NSA was broadcasting at that frequency in suburban San Antonio was never explained.

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