The release Tuesday by WikiLeaks of the first installment of what will apparently be a large batch of CIA communications, including what appears to be very sensitive information, moves the issue of the protection by the United States government of critical data into the “very serious” column.
The CIA has refused to comment, consistent with its policy in such matters, but there is some reason to believe in the authenticity of the documents in question. It is also not the first instance of sensitive U.S. documents ending up in the hands of the public and the media through WikiLeaks and other parties. Recent incidents of such leaks, both of which occurred during the presidency of Barack Obama, included those brought about by U.S. Army Spc. Bradley E., subsequently Chelsea, Manning in 2010 and Edward J. Snowden, a former CIA employee and National Security Agency contractor in 2013. Snowden remains in exile in Russia.
Speculation at this point suggests that the documents were obtained by hacking, as opposed to from disaffected CIA or other U.S. government security employees.
What is alarming about this pack of revelations is that the information apparently hacked included cyberweapons codes. WikiLeaks says it has edited that information out of what it has released, but it is truly disturbing to think of weapons codes being in the hands of WikiLeaks and other personnel. Their political allegiance is unclear. Their cooperation with foreign intelligence services, including the Russian Federal Security Service, is unknown. Some of them might think that global warfare is the only way to clean out what they see as a world elite rat’s nest.
What is true of all or at least some of the hackers is that they see even the most protected and secret of computers as a challenge to break, not an important secret to protect. What that means is that the CIA, the NSA and the other 15 or so military or other agencies of the U.S. government that work with such secrets need to undertake a drastic re-examination of their security measures to try to guarantee their protection.
The public already knew or guessed that their smartphones, televisions and even their cars’ computer systems were vulnerable to government, industry or other hacking.
It may be that American government’s reliance on computers has reached the end of the line and that it may have to go back to word-of-mouth as the only possible means of keeping the hackers away from dangerous information. Politicians’ campaign information is one thing; codes to cyberweapons systems are something altogether different in terms of the need to protect.