In an article for The Guardian, Greenwald notes that the NSA tampers with the hardware, then repackages it with “factory sealing” before sending it off to unsuspecting companies who have no idea it has been intercepted.
Greenwald notes that the practice constitutes “an extreme form of gross hypocrisy,” given that it has been warning companies around the world not to buy Chinese hardware because it may be set up with surveillance technology.
The revelation again comes from documents leaked to Greenwald by former NSA employee Edward Snowden. Specifically, a June 2010 report from the head of the NSA’s Access and Target Development department states that US made hardware is “received” by the NSA before it is shipped overseas.
“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. The document gleefully observes that some ‘SIGINT tradecraft … is very hands-on (literally!)’”.
“In one recent case, after several months a beacon implanted through supply-chain interdiction called back to the NSA covert infrastructure. This call back provided us access to further exploit the device and survey the network.” the NSA document reads.
“Chinese routers and servers represent not only economic competition but also surveillance competition.” Greenwald writes.
In a follow up interview with NPR, Greenwald stated that while intercepting equipment known to be on its way to terrorists may be acceptable to some, “a system has been built without our knowledge that has incredible dangers embedded within and very few controls.”
Greenwald notes that the NSA essentially believes it has the right to monitor all communications on the planet. He cites an NSA plan to tap into conversations originating from airplanes, for no particular reason.
“It’s just simply the fact that they do not think anybody should be able to communicate anywhere on the Earth without they being able to invade it,” Greenwald said.
Greenwald added that he believes the issue today is more pressing than previous NSA revelations in 2005 because it concerns domination of the internet and global communications in general.
With former NSA head Michael Hayden also making statements such as “We kill people based on metadata”, this sentiment will only be accepted more readily, both by critics of the spy agency and everyday Americans alike.