Every Scary, Weird Thing We Know the NSA Can Do

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Jan. 17 2014 5:00 PM

Every Scary, Weird Thing We Know the NSA Can Do

463272497-president-barack-obama-waves-after-speaking-about-the
President Barack Obama waves after speaking about the National Security Agency on Jan. 17, 2014.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

This post originally appeared on the website of The Brian Lehrer Show.

The trove of documents leaked by Edward Snowden has revealed the elaborate tricks the NSA can use to monitor communications and data around the world. Here, a running list of things we now know the NSA can do, based on media reports and other publicly available documents—so far. If we missed any, let us know in the comments page or by tweeting @brianlehrer.

  • It can track the numbers of both parties on a phone call, as well location, time and duration. (More)
  • It can hack Chinese phones and text messages. (More)
  • It can set up fake Internet cafes. (More)
  • It can spy on foreign leaders' cellphones. (More)
  • It can tap underwater fiber-optic cables. (More)
  • It can track communication within media organizations like Al-Jazeera. (More)
  • It can hack into the U.N. video conferencing system. (More)
  • It can track bank transactions. (More)
  • It can monitor text messages. (More)
  • It can access your email, chat, and Web browsing history. (More)
  • It can map your social networks. (More)
  • It can access your smartphone app data. (More)
  • It is trying to get into secret networks like Tor, diverting users to less secure channels. (More)
  • It can go undercover within embassies to have closer access to foreign networks. (More)
  • It can set up listening posts on the roofs of buildings to monitor communications in a city. (More)
  • It can set up a fake LinkedIn. (More)
  • It can track the reservations at upscale hotels. (More)
  • It can intercept the talking points for Ban Ki-moon’s meeting with Obama. (More)
  • It can crack cellphone encryption codes. (More)
  • It can hack computers that aren’t connected to the internet using radio waves. (More)
  • It can intercept phone calls by setting up fake base stations. (More)
  • It can remotely access a computer by setting up a fake wireless connection. (More)
  • It can install fake SIM cards to then control a cell phone. (More)
  • It can fake a USB thumb drive that's actually a monitoring device. (More)
  • It can crack all types of sophisticated computer encryption. (Update: It is trying to build this capability.) (More)
  • It can go into online games and monitor communication. (More)
  • It can intercept communications between aircraft and airports. (More)
  • (Update) It can physically intercept deliveries, open packages, and make changes to devices. (More) (h/t)
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Did we miss any? Mischaracterize any capabilities? Let us know in the comments, or tweet @brianlehrer.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Jody Avirgan is an associate producer at The Brian Lehrer Show.

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