Our Post colleagues have had a busy day. First, they released documents revealing the U.S. intelligence budget from National Security Agency (NSA) leaker Edward Snowden. Then they recounted exactly how the hunt for Osama bin Laden went down.
In that second report, Craig Whitlock and Barton Gellman shared a few tidbits about the role of the government’s hacking unit, Tailored Access Operations (TAO) in the hunt, writing that TAO “enabled the NSA to collect intelligence from mobile phones that were used by al-Qaeda operatives and other ‘persons of interest’ in the bin Laden hunt.”
So just what is Tailored Access Operations? According to a profile by Matthew M. Aid for Foreign Policy, it’s a highly secret but incredibly important NSA program that collects intelligence about foreign targets by hacking into their computers, stealing data, and monitoring communications. Aid claims TAO is also responsible for developing programs that could destroy or damage foreign computers and networks via cyberattacks if commanded to do so by the president.