The NSA has no idea how much of its secrets were stolen by Edward Snowden, and The Guardian's editor says they have published around 1% of what he gave the network of newspapers who have continued to analyze and publish his cache. Today Der Spiegel reveals (presumably with Snowden's help) how the NSA's elite team of spies intercepts brand new computers on their way to customers and uses Windows error messages to exploit the weaknesses of their targets.

It turns out that those Windows error messages really are a government conspiracy, headed up by the good people of the Tailored Access Operations, the few hundred "digital plumbers" (where have we heard that pipe-busting analogy before?) who operate at the very periphery of the law.

One example of the sheer creativity with which the TAO spies approach their work can be seen in a hacking method they use that exploits the error-proneness of Microsoft's Windows. Every user of the operating system is familiar with the annoying window that occasionally pops up on screen when an internal problem is detected, an automatic message that prompts the user to report the bug to the manufacturer and to restart the program. These crash reports offer TAO specialists a welcome opportunity to spy on computers.

The automated crash reports are a "neat way" to gain "passive access" to a machine, the presentation continues. Passive access means that, initially, only data the computer sends out into the Internet is captured and saved, but the computer itself is not yet manipulated. Still, even this passive access to error messages provides valuable insights into problems with a targeted person's computer and, thus, information on security holes that might be exploitable for planting malware or spyware on the unwitting victim's computer.

Although the method appears to have little importance in practical terms, the NSA's agents still seem to enjoy it because it allows them to have a bit of a laugh at the expense of the Seattle-based software giant. In one internal graphic, they replaced the text of Microsoft's original error message with one of their own reading, "This information may be intercepted by a foreign sigint system to gather detailed information and better exploit your machine." ("Sigint" stands for "signals intelligence.")

When they're not breaking into Mexico's domestic security database or the undersea data cables that connect Europe with North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, they're happy to pick up your package for you while you're away.

Sometimes it appears that the world's most modern spies are just as reliant on conventional methods of reconnaissance as their predecessors.

Take, for example, when they intercept shipping deliveries. If a target person, agency or company orders a new computer or related accessories, for example, TAO can divert the shipping delivery to its own secret workshops. The NSA calls this method interdiction. At these so-called "load stations," agents carefully open the package in order to load malware onto the electronics, or even install hardware components that can provide backdoor access for the intelligence agencies. All subsequent steps can then be conducted from the comfort of a remote computer.

These minor disruptions in the parcel shipping business rank among the "most productive operations" conducted by the NSA hackers, one top secret document relates in enthusiastic terms. This method, the presentation continues, allows TAO to obtain access to networks "around the world."

After an independent panel appointed by President Obama recommended drastically curtailing the NSA's data trolling, our Commander-in-Chief promised to supply "more confidence" in how our spies work to keep us safe.