In a detailed account on Foreign Policy, the Central Intelligence Agency, in concert with the National Security Agency, has been demonstrated to conduct what is referred to as "black bag" operations, or the manual hacking of a target's computer by uploading spyware onto anything ranging from personal laptops to large-scale servers.
When a specific target is out of the NSA's reach, it calls on the CIA to do, in its own parlance, a "surreptitious entry."
In such an operation, a crack CIA team breaks into the place of interest and does one of the following, depending on the situation: install spy-ware, bug phones, hack data switching centers, and copy backup files and disks. It is a procedure often used when hacking remotely is not possible.
Having already conducted over 100 such operations, it is a rate that, according to Matthew Aid, has not been seen since the Cold War.
And the targets are not as narrow as one might think; in addition to foreign governments and militaries, multinational corporations and individuals with terrorist ties have been hacked as well.
From a regional perspective, everyone is a target; operations have been undertaken in,
East Asia (particularly China)
the Middle East
An example of such would be the tapping of fiber-optic cables at a switch center in a certain South Asian country, allowing the NSA to listen in real time highly sensitive communications.
This is also in addition to the NSA bugging of foreign embassies in Latin America and Western Europe in addition various European Union offices in Washington and New York. While the former are areas of strategic importance, the latter has caused much outrage, since these are supposedly allies to the U.S.
How important are such operations to national security? Or is it more unethical, wanton spying?
Considering how old the art of espionage is, and that these operations are a modernization of what was done during the Cold War, it should not come as a complete surprise that the CIA still conducts these operations.
What is surprising are the sheer number of operations being conducted, and how we do not know how effective it truly is. Considering the amount of sensitive information received through such operations, we may never know not only how effective black bag operations are, but how expansive they are.
These black bag operations are one of many tools in the CIA's ever-expanding toolkit; however, they has become a significant tool just by how often it has been utilized, particularly after 9/11.
It is an expanding operation that has shown unprecedented cooperation between two former rivals with no signs of scaling back.