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Nation State Actors

I’ll give you fair warning now that what I’m about to say isn’t popular opinion and many of you reading this are going to get pissed off. I made a section dedicated to nation state actors, as I thought it was needed.

Let’s define a nation state actor. This can be a collective government, such as the US Government, where there may be multiple branches involved, a law enforcement agency like the FBI, or an intelligence agency like GCHQ or the NSA. Then there are groups of these nation state actors. This can be things like Five Eyes or Fourteen Eyes - groups like that are part of a massive intelligence apparatus.

Many of these agencies have been around for decades. There are a lot of good books that talk about the intel community. Some of the more notable ones that I like are The Sword and The Shield, and Enemies : A History of the FBI. Things like spies and covert warfare have existed as long as man has been around.

Book Recommendations

I strongly recommend you read some books about the intelligence community. There are a lot of great options besides what I have recommended. It will give a lot of clarity of why they exist and what they are capable of. There's a lot of opinions that people give, many of which are poorly informed. Hearing both sides is important to having a healthy point of view.

Between WW1 and WW2 was when a lot of these agencies really started to grow and their capabilities started to increase. A lot of it was due to the technology that was being made available, as well as the civilian population adopting more tech. For example, in older days, if an operative wanted to overhear a conversation, they had to be on site and stay out of sight. Once things like hidden mics and wiretaps came about, many of these activities became a lot easier and one agent could do much more intel gathering.

One of the more famous spy devices used in those days was something called the Great Seal bug. The Soviet Union gave it to a US ambassador in 1945 and it wasn’t discovered until 1951. It used a radio signal to activate the device and the bug didn’t have a power supply. It was finally discovered by a British radio operator who heard Americans talking on a Soviet Air Force radio channel as they beamed radio waves to the ambassador's office. There’s a lot more detail to how this worked, so feel free to Google it if you want.

Then there was something called TEMPEST which was used by the NSA. This method allows eavesdropping of an LCD or CRT monitor by using electromagnetic emissions. Something like this would allow an operative to be some distance away from you and see everything that’s on your computer screen. This is an instance where having an air gapped computer wouldn’t do any good.

Then of course, there were all the revelations that came from Snowden, including the tool called Xkeyscore. This is discussed in more depth in his book, Permanent Record. It’s a good read and will give more detail about what the NSA was capable of 15 years ago.

Now we’re in 2023. The leaps in technology for the civilian market have been massive since then. Something you also have to keep in mind is that the government is always years ahead of what the general public has available to them. Then there’s the fact that places like the NSA and CIA have top talent working for them. Some people like to throw crap at them and bring up mistakes made here and there, but mistakes will happen to anyone, and overall, these agencies are really damn good at what they do.

Now here’s my point. I see a lot of people freak out about being spied on by intel agencies and think that flocking to something like Linux and using Librewolf and a VPN will magically protect them from being visible. If you decide to go down the rabbit hole of what these agencies have been able to do and can picture what they are even remotely capable of today, you’ll know it’s a fool's gambit.

If you ever do something stupid and draw the attention of a nation state actor, at least in your home country or somewhere that’s allied to your home country, you’re cooked and there’s nothing you can do about it. Even if you happen to be in a country that’s not allied with your home country, you still aren’t safe. Again, reading some intel books will really clarify this for you.

So stop worrying about them. If you aren’t doing anything stupid, you won’t draw their attention. They know everything about you and they’ll be able to see everything you do regardless of what tactics you try to employ. No one on this planet is able to hide themselves from an apparatus like the Fourteen Eyes, no matter how smart that person might think they are. Many people also have no idea how many points of data are collected and how all of it puts a mosaic together that shows every little detail of their lives; the music they listen to, the food they like, what their belief systems are, what their hobbies are, and so on.

Now, regardless of what you believe, these agencies play a very important role in you being able to sleep soundly at night. If we didn’t have agencies like the NSA, CIA, GCHQ, and so on, our enemies would be able to destroy us from the inside. Read up on the Colonial Pipeline attack. Now imagine that on a country wide scale where the enemies do that to pipelines, power stations, water treatment plants, etc. I’m well aware this was a hacker group but don’t think nation state actors wouldn’t do it and aren’t planning it as you read this. Cyber warfare has become much more effective than traditional warfare and is the way of the future of how nations will fight.

These agencies are doing a lot behind the scenes to keep attackers at bay. Many times, they work with businesses when they find out a foreign actor is trying to hack into one. They also release a lot of publications that outline steps to take to mitigate threats and increase security. NSA puts out some pretty good publications, even if they are somewhat dry to read. They also play an important offensive role against foreign actors.

After reading all that, I’m sure many of you are pissed off, since many people like to have a boogeyman to point to and a shadow government agency fits the bill for many. To be blunt, I don’t care if you don’t like what I wrote. There are certain realities about the world and one of them is that you can't hide from an intelligence agency. Agencies like the NSA truly don’t give a damn about a random Joe. Their job is to stop an attack and to do it requires casting a large net and sifting through a lot of data. Everyone is free to do what they want, but I won’t live my life in paranoia over an NSA employee seeing what I do on my computer. They aren’t the people I’m concerned about.