WikiLeaks has released thousands of files that it identifies as CIA documents related to the agency’s cyber-espionage tools and programs.
The documents published on Tuesday include instruction manuals, support documents, notes and conversations about, among other things, efforts to exploit vulnerabilities in smartphones and turn smart TVs into listening devices.
A CIA spokesperson would not confirm whether the documents were genuine, telling NPR, “We do not comment on the authenticity or content of purported intelligence documents.”
WikiLeaks has dubbed Tuesday’s release “Year Zero,” saying it is the first of a series of CIA-related leaks that the site is collectively calling “Vault 7.”
In a statement accompanying the document release, WikiLeaks alleges that the CIA has recently “lost control of the majority of its hacking arsenal,” and that an archive with “several hundred million lines of code” has been circling among former government hackers, giving them “the entire hacking capacity of the CIA.”
One former government hacker or contractor gave a portion of that code to WikiLeaks, according to the organization. But the files included in WikiLeaks’ “Year Zero” release do not include the code itself — in its press release, the site says it is “avoiding the distribution of ‘armed’ cyberweapons until a consensus emerges” on how to analyze and disarm such weapons.
Instead, the purported CIA documents reference and describe agency tools designed to extract information from computers, monitor communications and control electronic devices.
WikiLeaks says the files came from the CIA’s internal Confluence system — a platform for team collaboration. They include guides describing how to reduce the risk of CIA involvement being detected in a program. Some pages have comments from users, whose names have been redacted.
The CIA has traditionally been responsible for human espionage — officially, the NSA gathers “signals intelligence” and the CIA analyzes it. But the CIA also carries out its own cyber operations.
In February 2016, then-CIA Director John Brennan spoke with NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly about, in part, the agency’s desire to expand its cybercapabilities.
“The technological changes are taking place at a warped speed,” he said:
“So we here at CIA, we recently set up a fifth directorate for the first time in 50 years, a new directorate … the directorate of digital innovation, so that we can understand all of the opportunities and challenges associated with that digital environment.
“I’m not a technological expert by any means, but I recognize that more and more human transactions and interactions take place in that cyber environment. And it profoundly affects all of our ways of life, and it affects the intelligence mission. So I want to make sure that for CIA to be able to fulfill its responsibilities in the years ahead, we understand what the pitfalls are, what the opportunities are, so that we are able to master that environment consistent with our authorities, so we can carry out our respective missions.”
Mike Pompeo, the new head of the CIA under President Trump, said in a written questionnaire accompanying his confirmation hearing that he understood that the agency, “upon direction from the President and working in cooperation with other agencies when appropriate, has capabilities to perform a wide [array of] actions related to all forms of cybersecurity policies.”
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