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Those NSA radio snoop chips, are they FCC Part 15?

Reading today’s New York Times story about National Security Agency USB hack gadgets that radio computer data back home, I immediately thought to myself: are these authorized by the Federal Communications Commission as Part 15 unlicensed broadcast/radiation devices? Or even, gulp, licensed?

nsa1024The Times reports that the NSA gadgets get plugged into foreign host computers as circuit boards or USB cards. Then they send out a “covert” radio signal that can be picked up miles away via a “briefcase-size” relay station. This technology has been around since 2008, the article says:

“The radio frequency technology has helped solve one of the biggest problems facing American intelligence agencies for years: getting into computers that adversaries, and some American partners, have tried to make impervious to spying or cyberattack. In most cases, the radio frequency hardware must be physically inserted by a spy, a manufacturer or an unwitting user.”

I suppose that this is all being done solely to protect us from evildoers, of course: terrorists, hacking units of the Chinese Army, etc. The article quotes officials saying that these snoopy USB radio chips have never been used in the United States, and I don’t believe that either. Maybe I’m being too paranoid, but the map in this article (and seen above) seems to suggest access points in the United States. If I’m right, it would be interesting to know which frequencies these devices use, and, to the extent that they do carry across or into the USA, to what degree the Federal Communications Commission is consulted on the matter.

Somehow I don’t think I’m going to find this out by skulking around the Commission’s frequency databases. On second thought, let me go look . . .

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2 Responses to Those NSA radio snoop chips, are they FCC Part 15?

  1. John Anderson January 15, 2014 at 4:42 pm #

    Probably on some government-owned spectrum. What are the most likely frequencies?

  2. buzz January 21, 2014 at 11:05 am #

    Generally speaking, radiofrequency devices operated by or for the USG are not subject to the Commission’s rules.

    Authority over federal use of the spectrum belongs to the President (delegated to the Secretary of Commerce), while non-federal is Congress which created the FCC. See for example:

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