Leaked CIA Documents Show Frankfurt As Regional Hub For Cyberespionage
RFE/RL March 08, 2017
The U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt was the hub for U.S. cyberespionage in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, according to some of the thousands of purported Central Intelligence Agency documents released by WikiLeaks.
WikiLeaks on March 7 published what it says are almost 9,000 documents taken from the CIA's Center for Cyber Intelligence that purportedly are part of a U.S. cyberespionage toolkit.
The CIA has declined to comment. The German government said on March 8 that it took the publication seriously and was in close touch with U.S. authorities about the issue, but could not verify the authenticity of the documents.
Experts who have begun to examine the material said it appears legitimate.
The latest release has renewed scrutiny of WikiLeaks.
During the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, the organization released embarrassing e-mails that had been hacked from key figures in Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign team.
The timing of the release of the hacked e-mails has been blamed for influencing U.S. public opinion and undermining Clinton's race against Republican Donald Trump.
In January, the U.S. intelligence community issued a report that said, among other things, Wikileaks had been a conduit for the e-mails that were hacked by the Russian military intelligence agency, GRU.
That assessment has been embraced by a growing number of U.S. lawmakers and policy makers.
"Wikileaks was used by President Putin and Russia to advance their agenda to disrupt our election. So that was clear," Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told RFE/RL. "The information was obtained by Russia; Russia gave it to Wikileaks as part of a strategy that needs to be part of our investigation."
The documents appear to reveal internal CIA discussions concerning techniques used to hack devices and showed that CIA hackers could get into Apple iPhones, Google Android devices, and other gadgets in order to capture text and voice messages before they were encrypted with sophisticated software.
In Europe, CIA hackers were given diplomatic passports and cover from the U.S. State Department, according to the documents. Operatives would tell German border police that they were entering the country to provide the consulate with technical support.
"Breeze through German customs because you have your cover-for-action story down pat, and all they did was stamp your passport," the instructions said, adding employees should take advantage of airline Lufthansa's free alcohol "in moderation" and not leave electronic devices in their hotel rooms for security reasons.
If the release does prove to be authentic, it would be another major breach for the U.S. intelligence community at the hands of WikiLeaks, an antisecrecy group led by Julian Assange, and its collaborators.
WikiLeaks has been hinting at the release for the past month. It said on March 7 that the CIA had "recently" lost control of a massive arsenal of CIA hacking tools and related documentation.
WikiLeaks said that "the archive appears to have been circulated among former U.S. government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner" and that one of them "provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive."
CIA spokesman Jonathan Liu said the intelligence agency did "not comment on the authenticity or content of purported intelligence documents."
Former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who has been living in Russia under an asylum deal since his leaks of classified information in 2013, said the documents showed the U.S. government deliberately put the public at risk of attack by leaving vulnerabilities in software and hardware.
"The CIA reports show the USG developing vulnerabilities in US products, then intentionally keeping the holes open. Reckless beyond words," Snowden wrote on Twitter.
WikiLeaks published only small portions of computer code from the hacking tools drawn from what it said was a data set of several hundred million lines of code, including the CIA's "entire hacking capacity."
It did not release the full programs someone would require to carry out an operation and said it wasn't publishing usable code "until a consensus emerges on the technical and political nature of the CIA's program and how such 'weapons' should be analyzed, disarmed, and published."
White House spokesman Sean Spicer refused to confirm or deny the authenticity of the materials. But he noted that the alleged theft took place during the administration of Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama.
"This alleged leak should concern every single American," Spicer told reporters on March 8, noting also the potential national security implications.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa, Deutsche Welle, and The New York Times
Copyright (c) 2017. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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