At DeepSec 2015 James Bamford discussed the “Athens Affair,” the subject of a recent investigation by him in The Intercept. In 2004, the NSA and CIA worked secretly with the Greek government to subvert Vodafone and other telecom companies in order to conduct widespread eavesdropping during the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics. The NSA agreed, however, to remove the spyware once the games were over. But rather than remove it, they instead secretly turned it on the top members of the Greek government and members of the Greek public, including journalists. When the covert operation was accidentally discovered, however, a Vodafone engineer involved was found dead, either by suicide or murder, and the death was officially connected to the bugging operation. I will show how the operation was pulled off, buy recruiting an inside person, then subverting the company’s “lawful intercept” program, and transferring the data back to NSA headquarters at Fort Meade. The episode demonstrates the enormous vulnerability of widespread “lawful intercept” programs, and government backdoors in general, and also how the NSA often uses a “bait and switch” in its operations – promising to help find terrorists, but really spying on the host government and local population instead.
James Bamford is a columnist for Foreign Policy Magazine, a contributor to Wired magazine, a documentary producer for PBS, and a bestselling author. He is widely noted for his writing about the United States intelligence agencies, especially the highly secretive National Security Agency. The New York Times has called him "the nation's premier journalist on the subject of the National Security Agency." And in a lengthy profile, The New Yorker referred to him as "the NSA's chief chronicler." His most recent book, The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA From 9/11 to The Eavesdropping on America, became a New York Times bestseller and was named by The Washington Post as one of "The Best Books of the Year." It is the third in a trilogy by Mr. Bamford on the NSA, following The Puzzle Palace (1982) and Body of Secrets (2001), also New York Times bestsellers.