The National Security Agency (NSA) and its British counterpart the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) have done just about everything in their power to intercept communications in the digital sphere.
According to a report in The Guardian, they have also placed a number of flesh-and-blood spies in tech companies who are funneling information back to the agencies. The newspaper reported yesterday (Sept. 5) that GCHQ established a Humint Operation Team (HOT — "humint" stands for "human intelligence") to monitor the world's biggest telecom companies from the inside.
Although information on the HOT is understandably scarce, they purportedly take positions in large companies — Google, Microsoft, Apple and similar companies are all likely contenders — and report their findings back to the GCHQ. As the GCHQ and the NSA collaborate, this data likely makes its way back to the American government as well.
"[The HOT is] responsible for identifying, recruiting and running covert agents in the global telecommunications industry," a GCHQ document says, according to The Guardian. "This enables GCHQ to tackle some of its most challenging targets."
A common rumor in the information security community holds that many large telecom companies have other workers from the NSA and GCHQ in plain sight. Government representatives end up within companies, placed there quietly but openly, to supervise whatever activities they can and report back to government agents — so goes the story.
At present, the spies within these organizations are still hidden, but that could change. The report could theoretically place some of these agents' positions in jeopardy, so the public may learn more about their exact functions if and when their identities come to light.