We speak with Electronic Frontier Foundation Executive Director Cindy Cohn about thousands of documents WikiLeaks published this week, dubbed “Vault 7,” that describe CIA programs to hack into both Apple and Android cellphones, smart TVs and even cars. Some of the released documents describe tools to take over entire phones, allowing the CIA to then bypass encrypted messenger programs such as Signal, Telegram and WhatsApp. Other documents outline a CIA and British intelligence program called “Weeping Angel,” through which the spy agency can hack into a Samsung smart television and turn it into a surveillance device that records audio conversations, even when it appears to be off. Other documents outline how the CIA has used the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt, Germany, as a covert base to spy on Europe, the Middle East and Africa. “It’s extremely troubling that the CIA was keeping all of this information rather than giving it to the tech companies so that they could fix these problems and make us all safer,” Cohn notes.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: We end today’s show by looking at the publication of what WikiLeaks says is the largest leak of secret CIA documents in history. On Tuesday, WikiLeaks published the thousands of documents, dubbed “Vault 7.” They describe CIA programs to hack into both Apple and Android cellphones, smart TVs and even cars and trucks. This is WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaking at an online press conference on Thursday from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.
JULIAN ASSANGE: The Central Intelligence Agency lost control of its entire cyberweapons arsenal. … Now, this is a historic act of devastating incompetence to have created such an arsenal and stored it all in one place and not secured it.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Some of the released documents describe tools to take over entire phones, allowing the CIA to then bypass encrypted messenger programs such as Signal, Telegram and WhatsApp. Other documents outline a CIA and British intelligence program called “Weeping Angel,” through which the spy agency can hack into a Samsung smart television and turn it into a surveillance device that records audio conversations, even when it appears to be off. The leak also shows the CIA has reportedly looked for ways to hack into cars and trucks, which WikiLeaks said would, quote, “permit the CIA to engage in nearly undetectable assassinations.”
AMY GOODMAN: Other documents outline how the CIA has used the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt, Germany, as a covert base to spy on Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The Vault 7 release totals close to 8,000 web pages and 943 attachments, which WikiLeaks says come from the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence in Langley, Virginia. While the material was redacted by WikiLeaks to avoid releasing the actual computer code used in the programs, on Thursday, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said the organization would be sharing some of the code exclusively with tech companies so they can fix the vulnerabilities in their software. On the campaign trail, now-President Donald Trump once said he loved WikiLeaks.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This just came out. This just came out. WikiLeaks! I love WikiLeaks.
AMY GOODMAN: Press Secretary Sean Spicer condemned the leaks, saying they threaten national security.
Well, for more, we’re going to San Francisco where we’re joined by Cindy Cohn, executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. We don’t have much time, Cindy, but if you can respond to this massive release—maybe the largest release of CIA documents in U.S. history?
CINDY COHN: Yeah, it certainly seems like it’s a lot of information, and it’s extremely troubling that the CIA was keeping all of this information rather than giving it to the tech companies so that they could fix these problems and make us all safer.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about their significance? What is—what most shocked you? Can you talk about the iPhones, the Androids, even cars—taking over a car electronically and causing it to crash?
CINDY COHN: Yeah, I have to say that there isn’t much in this trove that shows any new attacks. These are all things that people outside of the CIA had been talking about, and even doing some demonstrations of, for a long time. So the particular techniques in here, I say, for people who follow what’s going on in digital security, they’re not particularly surprising. So there’s nothing really all that new in here.
And, in fact, to the extent that there was something somewhat surprising, but good news for us, is that the encrypted apps, like Signal and WhatsApp, the government doesn’t appear to be able to crack those. Now, they can get a hold of your phone and take over your phone in a way that—such that they can read the message at the same time you do or at the same time you type it in. So there’s still work to be done on operating systems and the underlying hardware, but the encrypted apps, that people are increasingly relying on to do political activity or human rights activities—the apps themselves, so far, it looks like the CIA couldn’t break them, which is good news.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Cindy, some reports have suggested that the documents don’t actually contain information on the most highly sensitive CIA cyber-espionage. None of them appear to be classified above the level of “secret,” which is a relatively low level of classification. Now, is that the case?
CINDY COHN: Well, it’s certainly the case that they’re only marked “secret.” I think the guess that maybe there’s some stuff that was more secret, that hasn’t been released and that wasn’t in this trove, is a—seems reasonable to me, but I don’t think we really know. We just know what got released. We really don’t have a good picture of what might still exist that hasn’t been, that didn’t leak.
AMY GOODMAN: What can you tell us about what the documents reveal about the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt, Germany?
CINDY COHN: Well, again, this is something that was not that surprising. We know that the CIA has operations all over the world. This has some specific information about a facility in Frankfurt that looks to have been focused on—well, it’s not clear what it was focused on. The information talks about spying on Iran, which is, again, where they spy on Iran, a little bit news that it’s this place in Frankfurt. The fact that CIA has listening spots scattered around the world in secret locations itself isn’t news. But I think the Germans are rightly concerned. I don’t think it should be comfortable for them that the CIA is engaging in spying, I suspect, not just in—not just on Iran, but on Germany itself, from inside Germany.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Cindy, we just have—we just have 10 seconds. But Julian Assange now saying he’ll share the code with tech companies so they can close their vulnerabilities?
CINDY COHN: That’s good news. That’s good news. And the CIA should have done it a long time ago. The idea that the CIA knew about this problem, that this information got out of their control last year and doesn’t appear to have told the tech companies, is, I think, shameful. And people need to really turn to the CIA and ask them why—why aren’t they standing with tech companies and with the American people and people around the world to have secure products? That’s where their interest should be.
AMY GOODMAN: Cindy Cohn, we want to thank you for being with us, executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.