The National Security Agency’s unending tale of counterintelligence woe has gotten even worse, based on reports in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times this week, which reveal yet another truly shocking penetration of our country’s most important intelligence agency.
According to these reports, an NSA affiliate in early 2016 took highly classified information home – a gross violation of a raft of security rules and regulations – and placed it on a home computer, where they were stolen by hackers connected to the Russian government. This information was compromised thanks to this individual’s use of Kaspersky anti-virus software, although the precise role the software played here is under debate.
What’s not up for debate is the enormous intelligence loss this compromise represents, since what was purloined included above-top-secret information on how NSA penetrates foreign computer networks, as well as how the Agency protects American government systems from foreigners doing the same to us.
The Kremlin’s interest in NSA is intense and perennial, for reasons I’ve explained before:
It would be difficult to overstate Moscow’s interest in how the Five Eyes countries encrypt their sensitive government communications. During the Cold War, the KGB referred to NSA as Target OMEGA, and for the Kremlin there was no higher-priority espionage target on earth. That’s because by penetrating NSA you get access not just to that agency’s signals intelligence, the richest espionage source on earth, you can also crack into the top secret communications of the United States and its closest allies.
NSA’s security failures in recent years defy belief and raise awkward questions about whether the Agency and its counterintelligence structures can be reformed at all. First, we had the global media sensation created by the defection of Edward Snowden, an NSA contractor, to Moscow in June 2013. Snowden made off with some 1.5 million secret documents, many of them highly classified, which compromised literally thousands of NSA projects and programs.
Then, in August 2016, another NSA contactor was arrested for removing terabytes of highly classified information from his Agency office. Harold Thomas Martin III was not a mole, since there’s no evidence that he passed any secret files to a foreign intelligence service, yet his crime revealed yet again the sorry state of security at NSA. That said, the Martin case remains mysterious, and it’s quite a coincidence that his arrest came in the same month that the “Shadow Brokers” – in reality a front for Russian intelligence – dumped a trove of highly classified NSA hacking tools on the internet.
Read the rest at The Observer …