The NSA is involved in international corporate espionage

The NSA’s intrusion into the liberties of governments and individuals has been well documented over the past year in these pages. Nary a week goes by without some mention of the NSA’s overreaching arm. As a much celebrated, much anticipated documentary of whistleblower Edward Snowden aired on Friday, the NSA was rocked by yet another revelation- that it delved into corporate espionage to compromise company networks and devices. The documentary (called CITIZENFOUR ) was co-produced by Laura Poitras– she of Snowden fame from the June 2013 leaks.

The other day we wrote about the tech industry fears that the government spy agencies’ actions were leading to the destruction of the Internet. Google Chief executive Eric Schultz’s comments were documented at a Silicon Valley conference of tech industry leaders. The new-to-daylight documents leaked by Snowden detail covert operations by the NSA inside German, Chinese and South Korean companies in a report published by The Intercept . The report hinted that the NSA may have undercover agents planted inside companies to provide assistance in gaining access to systems in the global communication industry.

NSA Sentry Eagle 1

To be fair, it should be noted that the Chinese, among others, have ruthlessly hacked U.S. companies in an attempt to gain a competitive advantage in the world’s economy, so this information comes as no great surprise. It is, however, untimely as the Obama administration seeks to deflect attention from its spy apparatus and defuse tensions with foreign governments over same. They won’t be happy to learn that their companies have been infiltrated.

The documentary highlights details of a clandestine NSA program called Sentry Eagle (.pdf). Bringing to light this information will obviously be upsetting to US officials. A 13-page ’brief sheet’ about Sentry Eagle declares that,

Unauthorized disclosure… will cause exceptionally grave damage to US national security. The loss of this information could critically compromise highly sensitive cryptologic US and foreign relationships, multi-year past and future NSA investments, and the ability to exploit foreign adversary cyberspace while protecting US cyberspace.”

Uncovered are six operations,code-named appropriately after birds of prey. They involve digital espionage, cracking encryption systems and computer network attacks. The names are: Sentry Hawk, Sentry Falcon, Sentry Osprey, Sentry Raven, Sentry Condor and Sentry Owl. Of these, Sentry Osprey is most pervasive as it involves many agencies: CIA,  and FBI.

NSA Sentry Eagle 2

Their manipulation included interdiction of devices in the supply chain to modify them or implant bugs or beacons. The report declines to specifically mention sabotage, but one can draw one’s own conclusions as the Stuxnet worm unleashed against Iran might fall into this category. Perhaps most controversial and most damaging is the revelation that clandestine agents infiltrated commercial facilities.

As previously stated, governments spying on a nation’s companies are nothing new, and are ongoing around the globe as of this writing. And we have detailed over the past months instance where the NSA and other agencies have tried to co-opt US companies by asking them to install backdoors and alter encryption to facilitate the agencies spying on corporate customers.

It will be interesting to see how these latest disclosure are received in Washington and around the world. But one thing is readily apparent. The US- its spy agencies and the administration severely underestimated Edward Snowden and the damage that revealing his information would pose. The focus will now be on damage control as Congressional election season is at its height and the Democrats fight to keep control of the Senate. These new disclosures are not good news for them or the administration.

Stan Ward has enjoyed writing for 50 years. Writing has been a comfortable companion to a successful business and teaching career for him. Find him on Google+.

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