The TAO of tyranny was devised in 1997. In the USA.
The German weekly Der Spiegel has performed the service the British Guardian performed before it. Once again it falls to the serious foreign press to expose the machinations of the U.S. state apparatus; in this case, the works of The Office of Tailored Access Operations, or Tao.
“… TAO … is the National Security Agency’s top operative unit — something like a squad of plumbers that can be called in when normal access to a target is blocked.” So writes Der Spiegel.
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. …
… one former TAO chief wrote … that TAO “needs to continue to grow and must lay the foundation for integrated Computer Network Operations,” and that it must “support Computer Network Attacks as an integrated part of military operations.” To succeed in this, she wrote, TAO would have to acquire “pervasive, persistent access on the global network.” An internal description of TAO’s responsibilities makes clear that aggressive attacks are an explicit part of the unit’s tasks. In other words, the NSA’s hackers have been given a government mandate for their work. During the middle part of the last decade, the special unit succeeded in gaining access to 258 targets in 89 countries — nearly everywhere in the world. In 2010, it conducted 279 operations worldwide.
Indeed, TAO specialists have directly accessed the protected networks of democratically elected leaders of countries. They infiltrated networks of European telecommunications companies and gained access to and read mails sent over Blackberry’s BES email servers, which until then were believed to be securely encrypted. Achieving this last goal required a “sustained TAO operation,” one document states.
This TAO unit is born of the Internet — created in 1997, a time when not even 2 percent of the world’s population had Internet access and no one had yet thought of Facebook, YouTube or Twitter. From the time the first TAO employees moved into offices at NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, the unit was housed in a separate wing, set apart from the rest of the agency. Their task was clear from the beginning — to work around the clock to find ways to hack into global communications traffic.
… The TAO workers authorized to access the special, secure floor on which the unit is located are for the most part considerably younger than the average NSA staff member. Their job is breaking into, manipulating and exploiting computer networks, making them hackers and civil servants in one. Many resemble geeks — and act the part, too.
Their leader: the dangerous NSA Director, Keith Alexander.
Read on about “‘Computer Network Exploitation’ (CNE), the goal [of which] is to “subvert endpoint devices,” according to an internal NSA presentation that SPIEGEL has viewed. The presentation goes on to list nearly all the types of devices that run our digital lives — ‘servers, workstations, firewalls, routers, handsets, phone switches, SCADA systems, etc.’ SCADAs are industrial control systems used in factories, as well as in power plants. Anyone who can bring these systems under their control has the potential to knock out parts of a country’s critical infrastructure.”
The most well-known and notorious use of this type of attack was the development of Stuxnet, the computer worm whose existence was discovered in June 2010. The virus was developed jointly by American and Israeli intelligence agencies to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program, and successfully so.
AND READ HOW TAO techies are “Having Fun at Microsoft’s Expense”—and at ours, since so many of us use Microsoft’s Windows.
UPDATED (12/31): The Israeli Difference, in reply to the Facebook Thread:
Israel possesses this capability, Don Darkes. But Israel seems far more prone to using these “tools” to do what they believe, and most of Israelis believe, is in the interest of national survival. The US state, however, turns on its own people, seldom acting in their interest. I mean, if Uncle Sam is so smart, and is spying on Mexico, why give drug dealers weapons to kill Americans and innocent Mexicans? A lot of people hate Israel. But a lot of what the state does (and I do not necessarily support these intrusions) is executed by a leadership that perceives its interest to be one with the people it represents. In other words, when Israelis release a cyber-virus on Iran, it is b/c Mosad members are not emigrating (they can’t; no one will have them). They want to secure the future of their own kind.