Beyond Industrial Espionage: Is The NSA Changing Bank Accounts?

From the Washington Blog:

Hidden in the report which the White House panel on NSA released today is a stunning implication:  that the U.S. government has been using its massive offensive cyber capabilities to change the amounts held in financial accounts and otherwise manipulating financial systems.

Specifically, the panel’s report states (page 221):

(1) Governments should not use surveillance to steal industry secrets to advantage their domestic industry;

(2) Governments should not use their offensive cyber capabilities to change the amounts held in financial accounts or otherwise manipulate the financial systems ….

Why would the White House panel admonish governments to not “change the amounts held in financial accounts” unless they had determined that governments, especially the U.S. government, had done so?

We already know of accusations that the NSA has, rather than focus on keeping the US safe or prevent terrorist attacks, spied on the economic plans of other nations and hacked the emails of Brazil’s oil company, Petrobras.

We also know, as the Washington Blog points out, that Keith Alexander has constantly advocated for the NSA to have access to Wall Street’s computer systems in order to “protect” them.

Consider Techdirt’s review:

There were numerous reports this week on a speech Alexander gave, in which he talked up his plan to “protect” Wall Street by getting access to the financial industry’s networks.

“Drawing an analogy to how the military detects an incoming missile with radar and other sensors, Alexander imagined the NSA being able to spot “a cyberpacket that’s about to destroy Wall Street.” In an ideal world, he said, the agency would be getting real-time information from the banks themselves, as well as from the NSA’s traditional channels of intelligence, and have the power to take action before a cyberattack caused major damage.”

The thing is, this isn’t new. Back in July, the Washington Post’s excellent profile of Keith “collect it all” Alexander pointed out that he’d been pushing this exact solution for quite some time, though execs from Wall Street found the idea to be ridiculous, since they fully understood what it meant:

“His proposed solution: Private companies should give the government access to their networks so it could screen out the harmful software. The NSA chief was offering to serve as an all-knowing virus-protection service, but at the cost, industry officials felt, of an unprecedented intrusion into the financial institutions’ databases.”

I have to wonder if Alexander is pushing for official permission to do openly stuff that they are already doing. We’ll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, it would be interesting if some journalist would track down the reason for this remark in the NSA report. What exactly is the NSA doing with this power? Does this mean, for example, that the NSA can make donations to conservative, constitutionalist, tea party groups go to the accounts of government defenders?

Is there any reason to expect the NSA to be more ethical than the IRS in how it treats friends or perceived opponents of the regime?