JOURNALIST Glenn Greenwald has accused the US National Security Agency (NSA) of inserting backdoors for surveillance purposes into servers being exported to other countries.
The irony here is that this is just the sort of thing that the US government has in the past accused Chinese equipment makers of doing. Greenwald has a book on NSA surveillance that was exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden that is coming out this week, and the accusation comes from that. The Guardian has reproduced the relevant section.
"In 2012, for example, a report from the House Intelligence Committee, headed by Mike Rogers, claimed that Huawei and ZTE, the top two Chinese telecommunications equipment companies, 'may be violating United States laws' and have 'not followed United States legal obligations or international standards of business behaviour'."
Greenwald noted that at the time the committee said that the US should "view with suspicion" Chinese firms that might have been penetrated by "Chinese state surveillance".
But, and it is a big but, while this was going on the NSA was up to pretty much the same thing, according to Greenwald. He said that an NSA report from June 2010 revealed that the agency has its own backdoor specialists and surveillance tools and that they intercept hardware before it leaves US soil.
"The NSA routinely receives - or intercepts - routers, servers and other computer network devices being exported from the US before they are delivered to the international customers," he added.
"The agency then implants backdoor surveillance tools, repackages the devices with a factory seal and sends them on. The NSA thus gains access to entire networks and all their users.... It is quite possible that Chinese firms are implanting surveillance mechanisms in their network devices. But the US is certainly doing the same."
In a statement the National Security Agency said that as it too uses the type of hardware in question and is as concerned about any gaps in their security as everyone else.
"NSA relies on these products to help protect our nation's most sensitive information and, over the past decade, has turned to commercial technology to replace government-built technology. Given its own reliance on many of the very same technologies that the public uses, the US government is as concerned as the public is with the security of these products," it said.
"While we cannot comment on specific, alleged intelligence-gathering activities, NSA's interest in any given technology is driven by the use of that technology by foreign intelligence targets. The United States pursues its intelligence mission with care to ensure that innocent users of those same technologies are not affected."
The security agency added that reports that its foreign intelligence efforts are ‘unconstrained' are incorrect. It added that releasing its classified information might work against America's interests.
"The implication that NSA's foreign intelligence collection is arbitrary and unconstrained is false. NSA's activities are focused and specifically deployed against - and only against - valid foreign intelligence targets in response to intelligence requirements. We are not going to comment on specific, alleged foreign intelligence activities," it said.
"Public release of purportedly classified material about US intelligence collection systems, without context, further confuses an important issue for the country and jeopardizes human life as well as national security sources and methods." µ