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Tech by VICE

Bugged Routers, Spy Sales Pitches, and Other New NSA PowerPoint Bangers

Glenn Greenwald's new book about the Edward Snowden affair is already breaking new revelations of NSA spying programs.

by Ben Makuch
May 13 2014, 10:01pm

Just as Glenn Greenwald’s scoops on the Edward Snowden NSA revelations seemed to be quieting down, his new book No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the U.S. Surveillance State is already breaking new revelations about the American spy agency. 

In an excerpt from his book on the Guardian website published last night, Greenwald accuses the NSA of covertly installing backdoor interceptions to “routers, servers, and other computer network devices,” being exported from the US before delivery to international customers. Part of a wider NSA practice of supply-chain interdiction, the agency intercepts American products manufactured by companies like Cisco and physically tampers with products, installing beacons for surveillance transmissions. According to Greenwald, after the bugs are installed, the NSA “repackages the devices with a factory seal, and sends them on” to unsuspecting users.

In the same excerpt Greenwald cites the irony of American intelligence agencies warning users about backdoor bugging in Chinese-made technologies used for espionage. “American companies were being warned away from supposedly untrustworthy Chinese routers, foreign organizations would have been well advised to beware of American-made ones,” Greenwald says.

From Motherboard's own reporting we know that the NSA supplies the Canadian government with over $50 million worth of cryptographic and communications technology. Which private sector companies supply the equipment is unknown, but the technology could include the telephones Prime Minister Stephen Harper or his chief security advisor use daily. Whether the same corrupted technology Greenwald refers to reaches the halls of Canadian government remains to be seen.

While the book is chalk full of behind the scenes looks at the litany of NSA stories from the past year, Greenwald also dumped related documents on his site to supplement the release of the book. Some of those documents relate to previously published materials, while others provide brand new revelations into NSA activities.

Among the unpublished slides—Wired puts the number at around 50 total—are new stories about the NSA and minor players like Canadian Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) and the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD).

From a Canadian perspective we learned the NSA supplied CSEC with at least $300,000 worth of research funding, as part of a greater program designed to help kickstart other countries to develop their electronic eavesdropping capabilities. Pakistan, Jordan, Ethiopia, Thailand, and Canada are the top five beneficiaries of NSA funding according to that 2012 slide. Oddly, the Canadians were the only Fives Eyes member state (a top secret intelligence alliance between Australia, America, Canada, the UK, and New Zealand) to be financed.

The new cache of documents also shows explosive new details about ASD spy operations on Australian citizens. In a 2011 email, the ASD asks the NSA for expanded help surveilling Australians with suspected links to Al Qaida. “We would very much welcome the opportunity to extend that partnership with NSA to cover the increasing number of Australians involved in international extremist activities—in particular Australians involved with AQAP,” reads the email.

Another wider American spy program is also revealed in the new documents. This one focused on surveilling international envoys at various embassies. In May 2010, the UN Security Council voting on sanctioning Iran and its nuclear program still had several states undecided. The NSA went to work gathering intelligence that the American UN ambassador, Susan Rice, said helped her during negotiations with permanent council members China, England, France, and Russia. Rice said the intel “gave us an upper hand in negotiations” and apparently a cheat sheet on whether or not the countries were “telling the truth.”

Ultimately, the extra 50 or so documents—rife with the same amateur word art and tacky layout as previous leaked NSA slides—are not the last of the Greenwald cache. According to a recent interview with GQ, Greeenwald says that he’s saving the best for last. “There's a story that from the beginning I thought would be our biggest, and I'm saving that."