In his invaluable Lobster
, Robin Ramsay is compiling a guide to what we've learned about the NSA's capabilities. (The same list, more or less, can be found elsewhere.) Here's what we have right now:
It [The NSA] can track the numbers of both parties on a phone call, as well location, time and duration.
It can hack Chinese phones and text messages.
It can set up fake internet cafes.
It can spy on foreign leaders’ cell phones.
It can tap underwater fiber-optic cables.
It can track communication within media organizations like Al Jazeera.
It can hack into the UN video conferencing system.
It can track bank transactions.
It can monitor text messages.
It can access your email, chat, and web browsing history.
It can map your social networks.
It can access your smartphone app data.
It is trying to get into secret networks like Tor, diverting users to less secure channels.
It can go undercover within embassies to have closer access to foreign networks.
It can set up listening posts on the roofs of buildings to monitor communications in a city.
It can set up a fake LinkedIn.
It can track the reservations at upscale hotels.
It can intercept the talking points for Ban Ki-moon’s meeting with Obama.
It can crack cellphone encryption codes.
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.)
It can intercept phone calls by setting up fake base stations.
It can remotely access a computer by setting up a fake wireless connection.
It can install fake SIM cards to then control a cell phone.
It can fake a USB thumb drive that's actually a monitoring device.
It can crack all types of sophisticated computer encryption. (Update: It is trying to build this capability.)
It can go into online games and monitor communication.
It can intercept communications between aircraft and airports.
(Update) It can physically intercept deliveries, open packages, and make changes to devices.
(Update) It can tap into the links between Google and Yahoo data centers to collect email and other data.
Can we add to this? I think so:
It can use games like Angry Birds
to peek at how you use your cell phone.
It can gather the EXIF data from photos uploaded to Facebook, even though Facebook strips away that data.
It can find the location of anyone who is using Google Maps.
It collects information about the people who comment on YouTube videos
. (And now you know how Jay and Silent Bob tracked down their critics at the end of this movie
It knows who is watching which online videos in real time.
It monitors me
-- and every other user of Blogger -- every time we log onto the system.
It can install malware
and spy devices on laptops ordered online.
It has infected 50,000 computer networks
It directs the DEA
in ways to cover up
the fact that data used against a suspect came from the NSA.
It can lie to Congress
and get away with it.
And then there's the big one: The NSA uses fiber optic splitters to capture most of the content
of our emails and phone conversations, which may then be datamined for key words. The daily haul is not considered truly "intercepted" if the material is read by a machine.