U.S. aware of CIA security breach in 2016; contractors suspected in leak

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By John Walcott and Andrea Shalal | WASHINGTON/BERLIN

WASHINGTON/BERLIN U.S. intelligence and law
enforcement officials said on Wednesday they have been aware
since the end of last year of a security breach at the CIA and
were focusing on contractors as the likeliest source of
documents being passed on to anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks
detailing the agency’s hacking tools.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told
Reuters that they believed documents published by WikiLeaks on
Tuesday about CIA techniques used between 2013 and 2016 were
authentic.

The documents showed that CIA hackers could get into Apple
Inc iPhones, Google Inc Android devices and
other gadgets in order to capture text and voice messages before
they were encrypted with sophisticated software.

The White House said on Wednesday that President Donald
Trump was “extremely concerned” about a CIA security breach that
led to the Wikileaks release, and the administration would be
tough on leakers.

“Anybody who leaks classified information will be held to
the highest degree of law,” spokesman Sean Spicer told
reporters.

One official with knowledge of the investigation said
companies that are contractors for the CIA have been checking to
see which of their employees had access to the material that
Wikileaks published, and then going over their computer logs,
emails and other communications for any evidence of who might be
responsible.

One reason the investigation is focused on a potential leak
by contractors rather than for example a hack by Russian
intelligence, another official said, is that so far there is no
evidence that Russian intelligence agencies tried to exploit any
of the leaked material before it was published.

One European official, speaking on condition of anonymity,
said the Wikileaks material could in fact lead to closer
cooperation between European intelligence agencies and U.S.
counterparts, which share concerns about Russian intelligence
operations.

U.S. intelligence agencies have accused Russia of seeking to
tilt last year’s U.S. presidential election in Trump’s favor, including by hacking into Democratic Party emails. Moscow has
denied the allegation.

One major security problem was that the number of
contractors with access to information with the highest secrecy
classification has “exploded” because of federal budget
constraints, the first U.S. official said.

U.S. intelligence agencies have been unable to hire
additional permanent staff needed to keep pace with
technological advances such as the “Internet of Things” that
connects cars, home security and heating systems and other
devices to computer networks, or to pay salaries competitive
with the private sector, the official said.

Reuters could not immediately verify the contents of the
published documents. On Tuesday, several contractors and private
cyber security experts said the materials appeared to be
legitimate.

A person familiar with Wikileaks’ activities said Wikileaks
has had the CIA hacking material for months, and that the
release of the material was in the works “for a long time.”

A Congressional official said that the U.S. House of
Representatives Intelligence Committee has begun asking
questions about the WikiLeaks disclosures.

GERMAN CONCERN

In Germany on Wednesday, the chief federal prosecutor’s
office said that it would review the Wikileaks documents because
some suggested that the CIA ran a hacking hub from the U.S.
consulate in Frankfurt.

“We’re looking at it very carefully,” a spokesman for the
federal prosecutor’s office told Reuters. “We will initiate an
investigation if we see evidence of concrete criminal acts or
specific perpetrators.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel is scheduled to visit Washington on
March 14 for her first meeting with Trump, who has sharply
criticized Berlin for everything from its trade policy to what
he considers inadequate levels of military spending.

The Wikileaks documents may also complicate bilateral
intelligence ties that have just begun to recover after a series
of scandals, including news in 2013 that the U.S. National
Security Agency had bugged Merkel’s cellphone. The Frankfurt
consulate was investigated by German lawmakers after that
incident.

Merkel told lawmakers last month she did not know how
closely Germany’s spies cooperated with their U.S. counterparts
until 2015 when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed
the BND spy agency had for years passed on information to the
NSA about European companies and politicians.

Germany scaled back the level of cooperation with the NSA
after those revelations.

U.S. officials have acknowledged that the consulate in
Frankfurt is home to a CIA base. A facility adjacent to the
city’s airport and the Rhein-Main Air Base has for many years
been home to the CIA’s “Tefran” station, a U.S. center for
collecting intelligence on Iranian activities in Europe,
maintaining surveillance on Iranian officials and targeting
potential defectors working in Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Foreign ministry spokesman Sebastian Fischer told a regular
government news conference that Germany took the issue
seriously, but more work needed to be done to verify the
authenticity of the documents. Berlin was in close touch with
Washington about the case and such matters generally, he said.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Germany’s domestic
intelligence agency had the job of uncovering espionage
activities in Germany, and carried out its work comprehensively.

Wikileaks reported that CIA employees had been given
diplomatic passports and State Department identities to carry
out their work in Frankfurt, focused on targets in Europe, the
Middle East and Africa. The documents included advice for CIA
experts about life in Germany, noting that shops are closed on
Sundays, and to have “your cover-for-action story down pat” when
they were asked by German authorities when entering the country.



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