The NSA spying scandal entered a new phase recently with the news – reportedly leaked by Edward Snowden -- that the NSA has been installing wireless surveillance equipment into computer hardware, enabling covert surveillance even if the owner keeps the computer isolated from the Internet. Reportedly, some 100,000 machines have been implanted with the devices, possibly during manufacturing or transit.
The New York Times carried diagrams of tiny circuit boards – some embedded in USB connectors – that can report in to a base station up to eight miles away. Der Spiegel, a German paper, detailed a number of spy devices supposedly for use by intelligence agencies.
And the data travels both ways. Cyberattacks can also be launched wirelessly into the bugged computers.
The NSA has denied some reports, and deflected others saying that only foreign organizations or individuals of interest have been bugged, but those statements have understandably been met with a good deal of skepticism.
President Obama is scheduled to address the issue of surveillance on Friday, but already, the Los Angeles Times reports that Obama will try for a “middle ground” between privacy and the need to gather information on threats to the U.S.
Courts have rendered contrary rulings on what is known so far of NSA surveillance activities, one saying it was not illegal, while another ruled it “probably unconstitutional.”
And while President Obama and NSA Director Keith Alexander say that some 50 terrorist attacks have been prevented by these surveillance activities, a study by the New America Foundation maintains that normal investigative methods have been responsible for most seizures of potential attackers.
The British were widely admired when it was discovered that during WWII they cracked the Enigma machine and deciphered German coded messages. And the U.S. cracked the Japanese codes, leading to the victory at Midway and the shooting down of Admiral Yamamoto.
Is it surprising that when terrorists plan attacks on Americans or in other parts of the world, that our intelligence agencies would want to know? Probably not. What Edward Snowden revealed was not merely a loss of privacy, it was the extent that the new war on terrorism has intruded into the lives of Americans.