The newest information regarding the NSA domestic spying scandal raises an important question: If America’s tech giants didn’t ‘participate knowingly’ in the dragnet of electronic communication, how does the NSA get all of their data?
One theory: the NSA hired two secretive Israeli companies to wiretap the U.S. telecommunications network.
In April 2012 Wired’s James Bamford — author of the book “The Shadow Factory: The NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America” — reported that two companies with extensive links to Israel’s intelligence service provided hardware and software to wiretap the U.S. telecommunications network for the National Security Agency (NSA).
By doing so, this would imply, companies like Facebook and Google don’t have to explicitly provide the NSA with access to their servers because major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) such as AT&T and Verizon already allows the U.S. signals intelligence agency to eavesdrop on all of their data anyway.
From Bamford (emphasis ours):
Klein, an engineer, discovered the “secret room” at AT&T central office in San Francisco, through which the NSA actively “*vacuumed up Internet and phone-call data from ordinary Americans with the cooperation of AT&T” through the wiretapping rooms, emphasizing that “much of the data sent through AT&T to the NSA was purely domestic.”
Both Verint and Narus were founded in Israel in the 1990s. Both provide monitoring and intercept capabilities to service providers and government organizations, promoting claims that their equipment can access and retain large amounts of information on a vast number of targets.
From Robert Poe of Wired:
Narus’ product, the Semantic Traffic Analyzer, is a software application that runs on standard IBM or Dell servers using the Linux operating system. It’s renowned within certain circles for its ability to inspect traffic in real time on high-bandwidth pipes, identifying packets of interest as they race by at up to 10 Gbps.
“*Anything that comes through (an internet protocol network), we can record,” Steve Bannerman, marketing vice president of Narus, a Mountain View, California company, said. “We can reconstruct all of their e-mails along with attachments, see what web pages they clicked on, we can reconstruct their (voice over internet protocol) calls.”
With a telecom wiretap the NSA only needs companies like Microsoft, Google, and Apple to passively participate while the agency to intercepts, stores, and analyzes their communication data. The indirect nature of the agreement would provide tech giants with plausible deniability.
And having a foreign contractor bug the telecom grid would mean that the NSA gained access to most of the domestic traffic flowing through the U.S. without technically doing it themselves.