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NSA Reportedly Can Monitor 100,000 Computers Worldwide

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"The National Security Agency has implanted software in nearly 100,000 computers around the world that allows the United States to conduct surveillance on those machines and can also create a digital highway for launching cyberattacks," The New York Times reports.

In what's looking to be one of Wednesday's headline-grabbing scoops, the Times adds that "tiny circuit boards and USB cards [have been] inserted surreptitiously into the computers" either when they were shipped from the manufacturers or by agents "in the field." Radio technology reportedly allows intelligence agencies to then monitor the computers, alter data on them and insert malware.

"There is no evidence that the NSA has implanted its software or used its radio frequency technology inside the United States," the Times writes. The program, called Quantum, has reportedly been used to target units of the Chinese army and "Russian military networks and systems used by the Mexican police and drug cartels, trade institutions inside the European Union, and sometime partners against terrorism like Saudi Arabia, India and Pakistan, according to officials and an NSA map that indicates sites of what the agency calls 'computer network exploitation.' "

As The Associated Press reports, "the Times cited NSA documents, computer experts and U.S. officials in its report about the use of secret technology using radio waves to gain access to computers that other countries have tried to protect from spying or cyberattacks. The software network could also create a digital highway for launching cyberattacks, the Times reported."

Some of the details about the report reportedly came from documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Related stories:

-- On Morning Edition, correspondent Barton Gellman, who has revealed many of Snowden's leaks in The Washington Post, talked about the NSA's concession last week (as reported on Morning Edition) that it would agree to the appointment of a "technology adviser" to the court that oversees the NSA's surveillance programs. The chief judge on that court, Gellman noted, has said the panel relies on what the NSA tells them about its programs. "A technologist could advise the court on the meaning of what the NSA is saying," Gellman said.

-- Also on Morning Edition, NPR's Carrie Johnson recapped Tuesday's congressional hearing about the NSA's surveillance programs and the recommendations of a presidential panel that they be overhauled.

On the collection of massive amounts of data from phone calls, there was testimony about the threat it can pose to civil liberties and the evidence to indicate that the surveillance may not have made the nation safer. But Carrie said that former deputy CIA director Michael Morrell compared the collection of billions of phone records "to writing a check each year for homeowner's insurance even if your house never burns down."

On Friday, President Obama is expected to announce which of the panel's recommendations he is going to accept. There's more on that panel's work here:

Intelligence Panel Recommends Limits On NSA Surveillance

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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