A new report in the German Magazine Der Spiegel begins with one of the more amusing revelations about the National Security Agency that was uncovered since whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked documents outlining the spy agency’s activities to journalists.
Apparently, several years ago, residents of a section of San Antonio found themselves unable to go to work one morning because their cars were all trapped in their garages. The culprit? Disabled garage door openers. Across a swath of the city, residents clicked on their remote controls, but their doors refused to budge, leaving them stuck at home when they should have been headed to work.
It turned out that the NSA, through an installation at nearby Lackland Air Force base, was transmitting radio signals at the same frequency used by the garage door openers. It was, in those days, a rare public embarrassment for the agency, which scrambled to resolve the problem.
If that were the most disturbing thing reported by Der Spiegel, there would be little to write about. Unfortunately, the article’s revelations become less amusing as it goes on. The writers go on to reveal a number of previously undisclosed activities of the agencies elite Office of Tailored Access Operations, which specializes in “getting the ungettable” – meaning that it’s members are assigned to get access to the communications of the most sensitive and most protected targets worldwide.
One of the most eye-opening revelations is that TAO has the ability not only to discover when a target has ordered a computer or other electronic device from on online retailers, such as Amazon.com, but can also intercept the package en route from the retailers, install spyware on the device, and then send it on to the recipient with the tampering undetected.
The NSA’s relationship with U.S. telecommunications companies has been increasingly well-documented over the past few years, but the fact that the agency also appears to have access to devices ordered online at some point in the delivery stream is a new twist.
Whether the NSA gets its hands on the package before it leaves the retailer, or somewhere mid-stream in the delivery system is unclear from the report, but certainly raises some uncomfortable questions for a number of very large U.S. corporations, including Amazon, United Parcel Service, Federal Express, and others.
Follow Rob Garver on Twitter @rrgarver
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