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12-Jun-2017 08:29 by 8 Comments

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Their task was clear from the beginning -- to work around the clock to find ways to hack into global communications traffic.

The paper seen by SPIEGEL quotes the former unit head stating that TAO has contributed "some of the most significant intelligence our country has ever seen." The unit, it goes on, has "access to our very hardest targets." A Unit Born of the Internet Defining the future of her unit at the time, she wrote that TAO "needs to continue to grow and must lay the foundation for integrated Computer Network Operations," and that it must "support Computer Network Attacks as an integrated part of military operations." To succeed in this, she wrote, TAO would have to acquire "pervasive, persistent access on the global network." An internal description of TAO's responsibilities makes clear that aggressive attacks are an explicit part of the unit's tasks.In the United States, a country of cars and commuters, the mysterious garage door problem quickly became an issue for local politicians.Ultimately, the municipal government solved the riddle.Embarrassed officials at the intelligence agency promised to resolve the issue as quickly as possible, and soon the doors began opening again.It was thanks to the garage door opener episode that Texans learned just how far the NSA's work had encroached upon their daily lives.In other words, the NSA's hackers have been given a government mandate for their work.

During the middle part of the last decade, the special unit succeeded in gaining access to 258 targets in 89 countries -- nearly everywhere in the world. Indeed, TAO specialists have directly accessed the protected networks of democratically elected leaders of countries.The recruitment strategy seems to have borne fruit.Certainly, few if any other divisions within the agency are growing as quickly as TAO.This is the NSA's top operative unit -- something like a squad of plumbers that can be called in when normal access to a target is blocked.According to internal NSA documents viewed by SPIEGEL, these on-call digital plumbers are involved in many sensitive operations conducted by American intelligence agencies.TAO's area of operations ranges from counterterrorism to cyber attacks to traditional espionage.