At the annual Chaos Communication Congress in Hamburg, Germany, journalist and security researcher Jacob Appelbaum gave a talk where he revealed various spy tools the National Security Agency (NSA) has for conducting surveillance. He told the audience that top secret documents detailing these spy tools were being published by German newspaper Der Spiegel.
What received the most attention in his talk was “DROPOUTJEEP,” spyware which allows the NSA to have total access to a user’s iPhone. But, as Appelbaum pointed out, this obscures the reality that the NSA does not need physical access to compromise electronic devices. The agency is capable of compromising devices through the network.
By far the most stunning aspect of his talk is one which has received minimal attention. As his talk was about to finish, he asked, “What if I told you that the NSA had a specialized technology for beaming energy into you and into the computer systems around you? Would you believe that was real or would you believe that was paranoid speculation of a crazy person?”
Appelbaum then informed the audience that such a device actually exists. It is a portable continuous wave generator or continuous wave radar unit. (He also called it a “Philip K. Dick-inspired nightmare.”)
Here’s the document for the spy tool from Der Spiegel:
An interactive graphic from Der Spiegel explains that this tool is a part of NSA’s ANT division that the agency developed so it can see and hear what is happening in a room “without having to actually install radio-signal-emitting bugging devices in them.”
Additionally, “Most of this equipment involves a combination of hardware implants which emit a very inconspicuous signal, and a radio unit aimed, from outside, at the space being monitored. Reflected radar waves are changed by the signal emitted by the implant hidden in the targeted space.”
Appelbaum mentioned multiple devices, which are highlighted by Der Spiegel: “TAWDRYYARD” can capture the location of a specific object in the room; “LOUDAUTO” can capture words spoken; “NIGHTWATCH” and “RAGEMASTER” can capture what is displayed on a monitor
The benefit of the radar unit, the CTX4000 (which is actually a predecessor to a newer device PHOTOANGLO), is that it can reveal signals emitted from devices, like laser printers, without needing any implants.
This has been used for spying on the offices of EU representatives, according to internal documents.
“PHOTOANGLO,” according to a top secret document dated July 24, 2008, was designed to amplify the signal and send it to a radio frequency (RF) connector, where it would be directed to some form of transmission antenna (horn, parabolic dish, LPA, spiral).
It further explains:
…The signal illuminates the target system and is re-radiated. The receive antenna picks up the re-radiated signal and directs the signal to the receive input. The signal is amplified, filtered and mixed with the transmit antenna. The result is a homodyne receiver in which the RF signal is mixed directly to baseband. The baseband video signal is ported to an external BNC connector. This connects to a processing system, such as NIGHTWATCH, an LFS-2, or VIEWPLATE, to process the signal and provide the intelligence.
The NSA has a device that can act as a beacon for locating targets.
The NSA boasts that “all components” are common and off the shelf and “so are non-attributable to the NSA.”
One might notice that all of the tools are for products that are four or five years old. That should lead one to wonder what other creepy devices may have been developed and incorporated into spying since 2008.
Appelbaum also showed a slide with a part of a document that featured a device that could be used to actively hunt people down. Called WATERWITCH, it is a “hand held finishing tool used for geolocating targeted handsets in the field.” (“Finishing” being the part of “find, fix and finish” where a person is killed.)
Appelbaum shared that when he told WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange about the tool the NSA has to beam energy, he said, “Hmm, I bet the people who are around Hugo Chavez are going to wonder what caused his cancer.”
Appelbaum then asked, “Has the NSA performed tests where they actually show that radiating people with one kilowatt of RF energy at short range is safe?”
There is no data that conclusively proves that RF energy leads to cancer, however, many of these studies seem to be premised on whether cell phones could cause brain cancer. The devices the NSA use are probably more intense than a cell phone.
The National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health notes:
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a component of the World Health Organization, has recently classified radiofrequency fields as “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” based on limited evidence from human studies, limited evidence from studies of radiofrequency energy and cancer in rodents, and weak mechanistic evidence (from studies of genotoxicity, effects on immune system function, gene and protein expression, cell signaling, oxidative stress, and apoptosis, along with studies of the possible effects of radiofrequency energy on the blood-brain barrier).
The American Cancer Society (ACS) states that the IARC classification means that there could be some risk associated with cancer, but the evidence is not strong enough to be considered causal and needs to be investigated further. Individuals who are concerned about radiofrequency exposure can limit their exposure, including using an ear piece and limiting cell phone use, particularly among children.
In other words, studies continue because few scientists are satisfied that results have been conclusive enough to state definitively that there is no risk. Health organizations continue to advise people to limit their continued exposure to RF energy.
All of which highlights a key problem: that the public simply does not know what devices are being used on others for surveillance and it is unclear whether the NSA has given any thought to the impact the devices could have on human life. The agency knows it can operate in total secrecy and so it freely experiments with all manner of spy gear to play out its leaders dystopian fantasies of total information or communications control.
*Watch Jacob Appelbaum’s full talk on NSA spying tools here: