What Do the Recent WikiLeaks Claims Mean for American Security?

One former intelligence officer told The Wall Street Journal that disclosure, if genuine, likely would disrupt or halt ongoing U.S. intelligence operations.

by Chicago Tribune / March 10, 2017
NSA protest at Hawthorn Glen Park, Wis. Flickr/Light Brigading

(TNS) -- The following editorial appeared in the Chicago Tribune on Thursday, March 9:

Americans learned Tuesday, March 7, that the CIA has tools that can hack smartphones, computer operating systems, message apps, Wi-Fi networks. That blockbuster revelation came courtesy of WikiLeaks, the organization last in the headlines for its role in the purported Russian leaking of emails to tilt the Nov. 8 election to President Donald Trump.

First reaction: We sure hope the CIA has those abilities, given that terrorists around the world need to communicate somehow.

Second reaction: That doesn’t mean we want the world to know how the CIA does its job. WikiLeaks’ publishing of the CIA’s spying methods is a reprehensible trespass on American security. Under the guise of internet security or privacy or whatever phony justification WikiLeaks claims, the secret-busting organization now hands over the CIA’s master keys to cyber criminals, spies and other foreign malefactors. One former intelligence officer told The Wall Street Journal that disclosure, if genuine, likely would disrupt or halt ongoing U.S. intelligence operations.

From the Department of Cold Comfort: WikiLeaks says its wasn’t publishing details that could be used to replicate America’s cyber tools.

Third reaction: What a huge embarrassment for the CIA. The agency devoted to learning and protecting secrets apparently fumbled an invaluable hacking arsenal. The CIA should launch a full-scale investigation to learn who stole this information and how. Some experts theorize that a disgruntled CIA employee or an agency contractor was the culprit. President Trump, get ready to deliver your signature line to CIA officials who should have better protected those secrets: “You’re fired.”

The last time we learned about a leak of this epic scale, National Security Agency turncoat Edward Snowden was decamping to Russia in 2013 and the U.S. government was reeling over disclosures of its global electronic surveillance programs. This time, Snowden, still hiding in Moscow under the protection of Russian President Vladimir Putin, pronounced the latest WikiLeaks dump “genuinely a big deal.”

Yes, this is a big deal. What we don’t know yet is how the CIA used these tools, whom the agency spied on, what intel was gleaned. One tool reportedly allowed the CIA to intercept smartphone text messages and calls before their content was encrypted or decrypted. Another reportedly allowed the CIA to use Samsung Smart TVs as covert listening devices, even when they appeared to be off.

Former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden explained it this way to TV’s Stephen Colbert: “I can tell you that these tools would not be used against an American. But there are people out there that you want us to spy on. You want us to have the ability to actually turn on that listening device inside the TV, to learn that person’s intentions. This is a wonderful capability. You give the intelligence community $53 billion a year. You gotta get something for your money.” (Agreed. See our first reaction above.)

Stay tuned. WikiLeaks is promising more installments, divulging more CIA secrets, from a stash it dubbed “Vault 7.”

Who decides that the alleged benefit of revealing this trove of information outweighs the risks to U.S. national security? Presumably that falls to WikiLeaks’ Supreme Hacker Julian Assange. He’s still holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, sheltered from extradition to Sweden over allegations that he raped a woman there. He also fears extradition to the U.S. on potential espionage charges. (Given this latest disclosure, he’d be wise to avoid American soil.)

As usual, WikiLeaks hasn’t disclosed the source of this information. “The source wishes to initiate a public debate about the security, creation, use, proliferation and democratic control of cyberweapons,” WikiLeaks said in a statement.

By all means, let’s have a debate. But the correct place for that is in Congress, behind closed doors to protect secrets that can — and now will — be exploited by America’s enemies. Now more than ever, you can include Assange and his WikiLeaks co-conspirators in that camp.

©2017 Chicago Tribune Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.