On March 7, WikiLeaks published a “data dump” of 8,761 documents codenamed “Vault 7.”
According to WikiLeaks, it represents “the majority of [the CIA’s] hacking arsenal, including malware, viruses, trojans, weaponized ‘zero day’ exploits, malware remote control systems and associated documentation.”
The documents expose that the CIA found security flaws in software operating systems such as Microsoft Windows, Android and Apple iOS. These allow an intruder–such as the CIA–to seize control of a computer or smartphone.
The owner could then be photographed through his iPhone camera and have his text messages intercepted.
Through a program called Weeping Angel, CIA operatives could–and did–spy on targets through their Samsung F8000 Smart TV sets. Even when these were turned off, they could be transformed into a 1984-type “telescreen.”
The published documents covered CIA hacking techniques used between 2013 and 2016.
“This is CIA’s Edward Snowden,” former CIA acting director Michael Morrell told CBS News, referring to the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor who leaked millions of documents in 2013.
“This is huge, in terms of what it will tell the adversaries,” Morrell said. “We’ll have to essentially start over in building tools to get information from our adversaries, just like we did with Snowden.”
So who made it possible for WikiLeaks to so thoroughly compromise United States security?
According to anonymous U.S. Intelligence and law enforcement sources, the culprits were CIA contractors. Contractors are suspected because there is no evidence that Russian Intelligence agencies tried to exploit any of the leaked material before it was published.
Companies that work with the CIA are checking their records for evidence of who might have had access to the leaked information. They will then scour those employees’ computer logs, emails and other communications for incriminating evidence.
In his 2007 bestseller, Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, Tim Weiner outlined the dangers of the agency’s increasing dependence on outside contractors.
“Patriotism for profit became a $50-billion-a-year business….After the cold war, the agency began contracting out thousands of jobs to fill the perceived void by the budget cuts that began in 1992.
“A CIA officer could file his retirement papers, turn in his blue identification badge, go to work for a much better salary at a military contractor such as Lockheed Martin or Booz Allen Hamilton, then return to the CIA the next day, wearing a green badge….”
(Edward Snowden deliberately became a Booz Allen Hamilton contract employee to secure a job as a computer systems administrator at the National Security Agency (NSA). This gave him access to thousands of highly classified documents–which, in 2013, he began publicly leaking to a wide range of news organizations.
(His motive, he has claimed, was to alert his fellow Americans to the privacy-invading dangers posed by their own Intelligence agencies.)
Continues Weiner: “Great chunks of the clandestine service became wholly dependent on contractors who looked like they were in the CIA’s chain of command, but who worked for their corporate masters. In effect, the agency had two workforces–and the private one was paid far better….
“Legions of CIA veterans quit their posts to sell their services to the agency by writing analyses, creating cover for overseas officers, setting up communications networks, and running clandestine operations.”
One such company was Total Intelligence Solutions, founded in 2007 by Cofer Black, who had been the chief of the CIA’s counterrorism center on 9/11. His partners were Robert Richer, formerly the associate deputy director of operations at the CIA, and Enrique Prado, who had been Black’s chief of counterterror operations at the agency.
“Following their example, new CIA hires adopted their own five-year plan: get in, get out, and get paid. A top secret security clearance and a green badge were golden tickets for a new breed of Beltway bandits.”
This situation met with full support from Right-wing “pro-business” members of Congress and Presidents like George W. Bush. They had long championed the private sector as inherently superior to the public one. And they saw no danger that a man dedicated to enriching himself might put greed ahead of safeguarding his country.
There were, however, others who could have offered a timely warning against this–had there been leaders willing to heed it.
One of these, reaching back more than 500 years ago, was the Florentine statesman, Niccolo Machiavelli, who famously warned of the dangers of relying on mercenaries.
In The Prince, Machiavelli writes:
“Mercenaries…are useless and dangerous. And if a prince holds on to his state by means of mercenary armies, he will never be stable or secure. For they are disunited, ambitious, without discipline, disloyal. They are brave among friends; among enemies they are cowards.
“They have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to man, and destruction is deferred only as the attack is. For in peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy.”
Centuries after Machiavelli’s warning, Americans are realizing the bitter truth of it firsthand.