BloombergBusinessWeek, 23 May 2013
The men and women who hack for the NSA belong to a secretive unit known as Tailored Access Operations. It gathers vast amounts of intelligence on terrorist financial networks, international money-laundering and drug operations, the readiness of foreign militaries, even the internal political squabbles of potential adversaries, according to two former U.S. government security officials, who asked not to be named when discussing foreign intelligence gathering. For years, the NSA wouldn’t acknowledge TAO’s existence. A Pentagon official who also asked not to be named confirmed that TAO conducts cyber espionage, or what the Department of Defense calls “computer network exploitation,” but emphasized that it doesn’t target technology, trade, or financial secrets. The official says the number of people who work for TAO is classified. NSA spokeswoman Vaneé Vines would not answer questions about the unit.
The two former security officials agreed to describe the operation and its activities without divulging which governments or entities it targets. According to the former officials, U.S. cyberspies, most from military units who’ve received specialized training, sit at consoles running sophisticated hacking software, which funnels information stolen from computers around the world into a “fusion center,” where intelligence analysts try to make sense of it all. The NSA is prohibited by law from spying on people or entities within the U.S., including noncitizens, or on U.S. citizens abroad. According to one of the former officials, the amount of data the unit harvests from overseas computer networks, or as it travels across the Internet, has grown to an astonishing 2 petabytes an hour—that’s nearly 2.1 million gigabytes, the equivalent of hundreds of millions of pages of text.
Phi Beta Iota: This is insane at multiple levels. First there is the expense and then the strategic ignorance of focusing on the 2% instead of the 98% that is open. Then there is the matter of personnel capabilities — the reality is that most of these people are low-rent, not hackers by any conceivable definition of the term. Finally there is the matter of relevancy — with ten high level threats to humanity out there, it can safely be said that this effort in no way contributes to threat reduction., This is a monstrous out of control self-licking icr cream cone that cannot document more than a 1% processing rate. What NSA should be doing is a) protecting US commercial and all sector communications and computing; b) figuring out computational mathematics to stay on top of Google — never happening; and c) creating the world’s first near-real-time all-source exploitation center with distributed analytic workstations able to make sense of everything, in all languages, at all times. This is not to pick on NSA — every element of the US secret intelligence community, without exception, is performing at a 10% level of utility and return on investment. They system (not the good people) is corrupt to the bone. It lacks 21st Century leadership and is therefore incapable of producing intelligence (decision-support) with integrity, for Whole of Government — it cannot even keep national security plans, programs, acquisitions, and operations honest, so it can be said that right now the secret world is an employment program and a corporate welfare program, nothing more.