A Running List of What We Know the NSA Can Do. So Far.

Friday, January 17, 2014 – 09:20 AM

By Jody Avirgan : Associate Producer, The Brian Lehrer Show

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National Security Agency (NSA) (Chris Hardie/flickr)

Update: Shane Harris, Senior Writer at Foreign Policy and author of The Watchers, joined Brian Lehrer to discuss the list and provide context. Audio available to stream and download above.

The trove of documents leaked by Edward Snowden has revealed the elaborate tricks the NSA can use to monitor communications and data around the world. Here, a running list of things we now know the NSA can do, based on media reports and other publicly available documents — so far. If we missed any, let us know in the comments page or by tweeting @brianlehrer.

  • It can track the numbers of both parties on a phone call, as well location, time and duration. (More)
  • It can hack Chinese phones and text messages. (More)
  • It can set up fake internet cafes. (More)
  • It can spy on foreign leaders’ cell phones. (More)

  • It can tap underwater fiber-optic cables. (Clarification: Shane Harris explains that there were reports the NSA was trying to tap directly into cables using submarines, but is now more likely trying to intercept information once it has reached land.) (More)
  • It can track communication within media organizations like Al Jazeera. (More)
  • It can hack into the UN video conferencing system. (More)
  • It can track bank transactions. (More)
  • It can monitor text messages. (More)
  • It can access your email, chat, and web browsing history. (More)
  • It can map your social networks. (More)
  • It can access your smartphone app data. (More)
  • It is trying to get into secret networks like Tor, diverting users to less secure channels. (More)
  • It can go undercover within embassies to have closer access to foreign networks. (More)
  • It can set up listening posts on the roofs of buildings to monitor communications in a city. (More)
  • It can set up a fake LinkedIn. (More)
  • It can track the reservations at upscale hotels. (More)
  • It can intercept the talking points for Ban Ki-moon’s meeting with Obama. (More)
  • It can crack cellphone encryption codes. (More)
  • It can hack computers that aren’t connected to the internet using radio waves. (Update: Clarification — the NSA can access offline computers through radio waves on which it has already installed hidden devices.) (More)
  • It can intercept phone calls by setting up fake base stations. (More)
  • It can remotely access a computer by setting up a fake wireless connection. (More)
  • It can install fake SIM cards to then control a cell phone. (More)
  • It can fake a USB thumb drive that’s actually a monitoring device. (More)
  • It can crack all types of sophisticated computer encryption. (Update: It is trying to build this capability.) (More)
  • It can go into online games and monitor communication. (More)
  • It can intercept communications between aircraft and airports. (More)
  • (Update) It can physically intercept deliveries, open packages, and make changes to devices. (More) (h/t)
  • (Update) It can tap into the links between Google and Yahoo data centers to collect email and other data. (More) (h/t)

Did we miss any? Mischaracterize any capabilities? Let us know in the comments, or tweet @brianlehrer.

Jody Avirgan, Associate Producer, The Brian Lehrer Show

Jody Avirgan started two days before The Brian Lehrer Show won a Peabody, and he is taking full credit. He comes to WNYC from WFUV, where he produced “Cityscape” and before that KQED Radio in San Francisco. He’s a founder of Longshot Radio, and has produced pieces that have aired here and there and everywhere. Every other month in New York City he hosts the conversation series Ask Roulette, a live audience version of the Brian Lehrer Show’s “radio roulette” segments.

Read more:

http://www.wnyc.org/story/running-list-what-we-know-nsa-can-do-so-far/

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