This week the German publication Spiegel provided more details on the scope of computer-snooping done by the National Security Agency.
The Office of Tailored Access Operations (TAO) operates out a facility in San Antonio.
This is the NSA's top operative unit -- something like a squad of plumbers that can be called in when normal access to a target is blocked.
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. The documents reveal just how diversified the tools at TAO's disposal have become -- and also how it exploits the technical weaknesses of the IT industry, from Microsoft to Cisco and Huawei, to carry out its discreet and efficient attacks.
Glenn Greenwald, the journalist/attorney at the center of many of this year's revelations about the NSA, tells Democracy Now:
... the Tailored Access Operations unit, is really remarkable because the government, the U.S. government, has been warning for many years now about the dangers of hackers, both stateless hackers as well as state-sponsored hackers from China and from Iran and from elsewhere. And the reality is that nobody is as advanced or as prolific when it comes into hacking into computer networks, into computer systems, than the NSA. And TAO is basically a unit that is designed to cultivate the most advanced hacking operations and skills of any unit, any entity on the Earth. And so, yet again, what we find is that exactly the dangers about which the U.S. government is shrilly warning when it comes to other people, they’re actually doing themselves to a much greater and more menacing degree than anybody else is. And that’s the significance of this particular unit inside of the NSA, is they do all of the most malicious hacking techniques that hackers who have been prosecuted by this very same government do and much, much more.