Core Secrets: NSA Saboteurs in China and Germany

Published on Zcomm, by Peter Maass and Laura Poitras, Oct, 12, 2014.

The National Security Agency has had agents in China, Germany, and South Korea working on programs that use “physical subversion” to infiltrate and compromise networks and devices, according to documents obtained by The Intercept.

The documents, leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, also indicate that the agency has used “under cover” operatives to gain access to sensitive data and systems in the global communications industry, and that these secret agents may have even dealt with American firms. The documents describe a range of clandestine field activities that are among the agency’s “core secrets” when it comes to computer network attacks, details of which are apparently shared with only a small number of officials outside the NSA.  

“It’s something that many people have been wondering about for a long time,” said Chris Soghoian, principal technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union, after reviewing the documents. “I’ve had conversations with executives at tech companies about this precise thing. How do you know the NSA is not sending people into your data centers?” … //

Sentry Eagle: … //
TAREX: … //
… “Under Cover” Agents: … //

… Corporate Partners:

The briefing sheet’s description of Sentry Owl indicates the NSA has previously unknown relationships with foreign companies. According to the document, the agency “works with specific foreign partners (X/Y/Z) and foreign commercial industry entities” to make devices and products “exploitable for SIGINT”—a reference to signals intelligence, which is the heart of the NSA’s effort to collect digital communications, such as emails, texts, photos, chats, and phone records. This language clarifies a vague reference to foreign companies that appears in the secret 2013 budget for the intelligence community, key parts of which were published last year from the Snowden archive.

The document does not name any foreign companies or products, and gives no indication of the number or scale of the agency’s ties to them. Previous disclosures from the Snowden archive have exposed the agency’s close relationships with foreign intelligence agencies, but there has been relatively little revealed about the agency gaining the help of foreign companies.

The description of Sentry Hawk, which involves attacks on computer networks, also indicates close ties with foreign as well as American companies. The document states that the NSA “works with U.S. and foreign commercial entities…in the conduct of CNE [Computer Network Exploitation].” Although previous stories from the Snowden archive revealed a wide range of NSA attacks on computer networks, it has been unclear whether those attacks were conducted with the help of “commercial entities”—especially foreign ones. The document does not provide the names of any of these entities or the types of operations.

Green, the cryptography professor, said “it’s a big deal” if the NSA is working with foreign companies on a greater scale than currently understood. Until now, he noted, disclosures about the agency’s corporaterelationships have focused on American companies. Those revelations have harmed their credibility, nudging customers to foreign alternatives that were thought to be untouched by the NSA. If foreign companies are also cooperating with the NSA and modifying their products, the options for purchasing truly secure telecommunications hardware are more limited than previously thought.

The briefing sheet does not say whether foreign governments are aware that the NSA may be working with their own companies. If they are not aware, says William Binney, a former NSA crypto-mathematician turned whistleblower, it would mean the NSA is cutting deals behind the backs of friendly and perhaps not-so-friendly governments.

“The idea of having foreign corporations involved without any hint of any foreign government involved is significant,” he said. “It will be an alert to all governments to go check with their companies. Bring them into parliament and put them under oath.”

The description of Sentry Raven, which focuses on encryption, provides additional confirmation that American companies have helped the NSA by secretly weakening encryption products to make them vulnerable to the agency. The briefing sheet states the NSA “works with specific U.S. commercial entities…to modify U.S manufactured encryption systems to make them exploitable for SIGINT.” It doesn’t name the commercial entities or the encryption tools they modified, but it appears to encompass a type of activity that Reuters revealed last year—that the NSA paid $10 million to the security firm RSA to use a weak random number generator in one of its encryption programs.

The avalanche of NSA disclosures since the Snowden leaks began in 2013 has shattered whatever confidence technologists once had about their networks. When asked for comment on the latest documents, Prince, the CEO of CloudFlare, began his response by saying, “We’re hyper-paranoid about everything.”

(full text, documents, hyper-liks, graphs).

Related Links:

Other Links:

War against Isis: British soldiers training Kurdish forces in Iraq, says Ministry of Defence, on, by JAMES RUSH, Oct 12, 2014;

For Families and Communities, Deportation Means Trauma, on truthout, by Erika L. Sánchez, Oct 11, 2014;

Labour market links, 11/10/14: Germany, Greece, EU, UK, Simon Wren-Lewis, on RWER Blog, Oct 11, 2014;

Kiev secretly received data from MH17 crash investigators – Ukrainian hacktivists, on Russia Today RT, Oct 11, 2014;

Black on Purpose: Race, Inheritance and Queer Reproduction, on The Feminist Wire, by Savannah Shange, October 10, 2014;

Where’s Kim Jong-un? Ill, deposed, overthrown – or just plain bored? What has really happened to North Korea’s truculent young dictator? on, by PETER POPHAM, Oct 10, 2014;

On the Islamic State front line with Iraqi army, on BBCnews, Oct 10, 2014;

The Tyrant Jean-Claude Duvalier Is Dead, but His Legacy Still Lives in UN-Occupied Haiti, on truthout, by Roger Annis, October 8, 2014;

The Myth of Diversity and Critical Thinking in American Academia, on The Feminist Wire, by Brittany Chávez and Louis Yako, Oct 7, 2014;

The Hidden Government Group Linking JFK, Watergate, Iran-Contra and 9/11, on Global, by Prof Peter Dale Scott, Oct 5, 2014;

Obama Reconsiders Attacking Assad, on Worker’s Action, by Shamus Cooke, Oct 3, 2014;

Recovering Egypt’s historic regional role, on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Magda Shahin, Oct 2, 2014: While the world is coming round to Egypt’s fight against Islamic extremism, Egypt still needs to focus on its fundamentals — good governance and sound economy — if it wants to fully recover its regional prowess;

Who will fill the ISIS vacuum? on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Bassel Oudat, Oct 2, 2014: The war on IS cannot succeed without ground troops, but of what kind?

The March to War: Fighting ISIL is a Smokescreen for US Mobilization against Syria, Iran, on Global, by Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, Sept 26, 2014;

… and this:

Comments are closed.