The Central Intelligence Agency now can mimic foreign intelligence agencies’ hack attacks by leaving electronic “fingerprints” creating the false impression of a foreign intrusion into computer networks, according to claims accompanying a new WikiLeaks document dump.
In other words, there may not be hard evidence that CIA operatives, say, used cyberspace to create a modern-day Reichstag fire to undermine the Trump administration, but it may be the case that the CIA has the technological capabilities to do such a thing, if it were so inclined.
This assertion that the CIA can hack computer networks and leave behind convincing evidence that somebody else did it, comes with the release by WikiLeaks of a huge collection of documents – 8,761 items in all – collectively dubbed the “Vault 7” leaks that purport to describe espionage techniques used by the CIA. The Vault 7 collection is said to have come from a former U.S. government hacker or contractor associated with “an isolated, high-security network” within the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence in Langley, Va. The files made public don’t include the actual cyber weapons themselves which WikiLeaks says it will not release for the time being.
This documentary agglomeration covers “the entire hacking capacity of the CIA,” Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks claimed in a press release, and it is only the first in a series of what he calls the “Year Zero” leaks.
The Year Zero label has a decidedly sinister quality to it and may offer clues into what WikiLeaks hopes to accomplish with these new leaks, apparently the most significant and damaging to the U.S. intelligence community since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden handed over thousands of classified U.S. documents to journalists in 2013.
Year Zero was used by the bloodthirsty Khmer Rouge when it seized power in Cambodia in 1975. The term is analogous to Year One of the French Revolutionary calendar, which implied a violent break with the old system and the merciless leveling of existing institutions.
As one online resource states:
The idea behind Year Zero is that all culture and traditions within a society must be completely destroyed or discarded and a new revolutionary culture must replace it, starting from scratch. All history of a nation or people before Year Zero is deemed largely irrelevant, as it will ideally be purged and replaced from the ground up. In Cambodia, so-called New People—teachers, artists, and intellectuals—were especially singled out and executed during the purges accompanying Year Zero.
According to WikiLeaks, “[t]he CIA’s Remote Devices Branch’s UMBRAGE group collects and maintains a substantial library of attack techniques ‘stolen’ from malware produced in other states including the Russian Federation.”
With UMBRAGE and related projects the CIA cannot only increase its total number of attack types but also misdirect attribution by leaving behind the “fingerprints” of the groups that the attack techniques were stolen from. UMBRAGE components cover keyloggers, password collection, webcam capture, data destruction, persistence, privilege escalation, stealth, anti-virus (PSP) avoidance and survey techniques.
If this new information about “Umbrage” is accurate, this means that, as stated above, the CIA could hack people and institutions and then attribute the cyber-attacks to others in what amount to false-flag operations. For example, in order to create the impression that a foreign power favored one political candidate over another, the CIA or unseen rogue elements with access to “Umbrage,” could have hacked into Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee and made it appear that the intrusion was carried out by former KGB lieutenant colonel Vladimir Putin’s operatives.
That Russians hacked Clinton and the DNC and gave Trump an unfair advantage in the election is precisely what Democrats allege. Is such a scenario in which U.S. operatives hack one political party to help another at least a little far-fetched?
You bet it is. But given what we’ve learned about the CIA’s anti-Trump shenanigans in recent months, it seems unwise to reflexively rule out the possibility that that’s how things could have gone down. Espionage, after all, is all about deception and covering tracks. Things aren’t what they seem and the motives of those creating an illusion aren’t easily discerned.
On the positive side, “Umbrage,” if it is a real thing, is a powerful innovation in tradecraft and an indication that American cyberwarfare is soaring to dizzying new heights.
On the other hand, combine “Umbrage” with the seemingly invincible false narrative that President Donald Trump is a tool of Russian interests, and plenty of Americans would be willing to believe Trump really does have substantial ties to the Kremlin, something that has not been proven. Even now there is still no publicly available evidence the Trump campaign somehow colluded with the Russian government last year. Sources in newspaper articles are never identified. All that exists is the alleged say-so of faceless CIA spooks and people like former CIA employee and would-be presidential spoiler Evan McMullin whose motives are questionable.
It is hard to know what to believe.
And it opens the door to head-spinning possibilities and far-out theories.
As investigative journalist Jerome Corsi writes of Vault 7 and “Umbrage”:
This revelation yields a “through the looking glass” possibility that the Obama administration obtained [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] permission to conduct electronic surveillance on Russians believed to be coordinating with the Trump campaign based on intelligence the CIA planted to deceive the NSA into thinking there was actual contact between Russian agents and the Trump campaign.
Possibly, what the CIA was monitoring was not actual contacts between Russian agents and the Trump campaign, but CIA-created counter-espionage designed to implicate Trump and provide the legal context for the [Department of Justice] to have enough “evidence” to obtain a FISA green-light.
This kind of double-level thinking is enough to give anyone a throbbing headache.
Vault 7 also includes eye-opening developments worthy of James Bond 007 and Q Branch.
According to WikiLeaks, the CIA recently “lost control of the majority of its hacking arsenal including malware, viruses, trojans, weaponized ‘zero day’ exploits, malware remote control systems and associated documentation.” These cyber weapons can be used “against a wide range of U.S. and European company products, [including] Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows and even Samsung TVs, which are turned into covert microphones.”
Something called “Weeping Angel” was created by the CIA’s Embedded Devices Branch to infest smart televisions.
“After infestation, Weeping Angel places the target TV in a ‘Fake-Off’ mode, so that the owner falsely believes the TV is off when it is on. In ‘Fake-Off’ mode the TV operates as a bug, recording conversations in the room and sending them over the Internet to a covert CIA server.”
Another technique allows the CIA “to bypass the encryption of WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram, Wiebo, Confide and Cloackman by hacking the ‘smart’ phones that they run on and collecting audio and message traffic before encryption is applied.”
“As of October 2014,” WikiLeaks claims, “the CIA was also looking at infecting the vehicle control systems used by modern cars and trucks. The purpose of such control is not specified, but it would permit the CIA to engage in nearly undetectable assassinations.”
Despite all this intrigue, it needs to be said that the CIA does some valuable work to advance U.S. interests in the world. It’s a shame that it has come to be dominated by left-wingers over the years.
There is, though, a certain logic to the agency’s slide to port. Not all self-styled do-gooders, after all, land jobs in the nonprofit sector. A leftist member of the intelligence community is fundamentally the same as a community organizer who is convinced he knows what is best for his fellow man.
And left-wingers in all occupations are willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish their objectives.
In the summer 2001 issue of Social Policy magazine, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) founder Wade Rathke urged his comrades to get in on the ground floor of the cyber-warfare revolution:
Crazy, computer viruses are started by young kids around the world or hackers bored out of their skulls that live right down the street. As union organizers we are still doing 8 point difficulty dumpster dives for alpha lists of employees, when theoretically some good geeks could tap in, load up, and download the whole thing and throw it over our transom window. What a waste of talent when such a huge contribution could be made to the labor movement.
Maybe Rathke missed his calling.