The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is at the centre of an explosive report that alleges its senior officials considered some extreme responses to an embarrassing leak.

In March 2017 the CIA suffered the biggest data loss in its history when WikiLeaks published about 8,000 pages of secret methods used by the Central Intelligence Agency to compromise everything from mobile phones to televisions.

The tools described in ‘Vault 7’ documents leaked by WikiLeaks were used against 40 targets in 16 countries in cyberattacks by an organisation previously known as ‘Longhorn’, Symantec said at the time.

CIA hacking tools

The decision by the whistleblowing site Wikileaks to publish the classified documents belonging to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), was a major blow.

The consensus among security experts at the time was that the Wikileaks materials appeared to be genuine, and there seemed to be little surprise at the revelations.

Wikileaks did not identify the culprit behind the leaks, so it was thought the data leak could be the result of either hacking by a foreign intelligence agency, a rogue employee, or the theft of a third party server where that data was temporarily held.

The leaks revealed the CIA, in conjunction with other US and foreign agencies, had created a number of hacking tools to exploit vulnerabilities with Windows-based PCs and laptops.

Apple iPhones and iPads, Google’s Android smartphones, Cisco routers and Samsung Smart TVs had also been compromised.

Even worse the CIA was apparently able to bypass the encryption on popular messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal. The leaked files did not indicate the actual encryption of these messaging apps had been compromised.

In one case US and British personnel, under a program known as Weeping Angel, developed ways to take over a Samsung smart television. The TV for all intents and purposes seems to be switched off, but in actual fact its microphone can record conversations in the room.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who at the time was living in the Embassy of Ecuador in London, said his whistleblowing would give manufacturers “exclusive access” to documents related to the CIA hacking tools.

CIA revenge

But Assange was perhaps not aware of how angry the CIA was, and the extreme measures it was considering in response to the leaking of its secrets.

An investigation by Yahoo News, which cited former officials, alleged that senior CIA officials during the Trump administration discussed abducting and even assassinating WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange.

This reportedly spurring heated debate among Trump administration officials over the legality and practicality of such an operation.

Some senior officials inside the CIA and the Trump administration went so far as to request “sketches” or “options” for how to assassinate Assange.

Discussions over kidnapping or killing Assange occurred “at the highest levels” of the Trump administration, said a former senior counter-intelligence official. “There seemed to be no boundaries.”

President Trump’s newly installed CIA director, Mike Pompeo (who later became US Secretary of State), was reportedly seeking revenge on WikiLeaks and Assange.

Pompeo and other top agency leaders “were completely detached from reality because they were so embarrassed about Vault 7,” a former Trump national security official reportedly said. “They were seeing blood.”

The CIA’s fury at WikiLeaks led Pompeo to publicly describe the group in 2017 as a “non-state hostile intelligence service.”

This designation opened the door for CIA operatives to take far more aggressive actions, treating the organisation as it does adversary spy services, former intelligence officials told Yahoo News.

Within months, US agents were reportedly monitoring the communications and movements of numerous WikiLeaks personnel, including audio and visual surveillance of Assange himself, according to former officials.

Yahoo News said that its investigation was based on conversations with more than 30 former US officials – eight of whom described details of the CIA’s proposals to abduct Assange.

The CIA reportedly declined to comment.

Pompeo did not respond to requests for comment.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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