A new report from NSA leak story breaker Glenn Greenwald claims the U.S.-based National Security Agency actually intercepts and alters routers and server hardware exported from the U.S. to implant them with surveillance tools to facilitate spying on international users. The source of the report is a June 2010 document from the NSA’s Access and Target Development department, which outlines the program in detail. Now, the NSA has responded with two official statements addressing the fresh accusations.
These devices, which are either received or intercepted by the NSA in the course of their export, could include routers, servers and “other computer network devices.” The agency is said to open them, implant beacons and other backdoor surveillance tools, and then repackage them complete with factory seals before sending them on to their final destination.
If accurate, the report is especially damning because the U.S. government has, in the past, suggested that China-made network equipment has been intercepted and altered in exactly the same way. This has been used as grounds for encouraging U.S.-based firms to stick with hardware made by American-controlled companies, and to avoid network equipment built by Chinese corporations, including but not limited to Huawei and ZTE.
When contacted for comment, the NSA provided the following statements about these fresh allegations via email:
As we have said before, the U.S. technology industry builds the most secure hardware and software in the world today. NSA relies on these products to help protect our nation’s most sensitive information and, over the past decade, has turned to commercial technology to replace government-built technology. Given its own reliance on many of the very same technologies that the public uses, the U.S. Government is as concerned as the public is with the security of these products. While we cannot comment on specific, alleged intelligence-gathering activities, NSA’s interest in any given technology is driven by the use of that technology by foreign intelligence targets. The United States pursues its intelligence mission with care to ensure that innocent users of those same technologies are not affected.
As we have previously said, the implication that NSA’s foreign intelligence collection is arbitrary and unconstrained is false. NSA’s activities are focused and specifically deployed against – and only against – valid foreign intelligence targets in response to intelligence requirements. We are not going to comment on specific, alleged foreign intelligence activities. Public release of purportedly classified material about U.S. intelligence collection systems, without context, further confuses an important issue for the country and jeopardizes human life as well as national security sources and methods.