CBS News first reported a manhunt inside the Central Intelligence Agency in search of the source who provided thousands of top secret documents to Wikileaks, published in its “Vault 7” — which revealed the clandestine agency’s hacking tools and surveillance practices.
“Sources familiar with the investigation say it is looking for an insider — either a CIA employee or contractor — who had physical access to the material,” CBS reported Wednesday evening. “The agency has not said publicly when the material was taken or how it was stolen.
“Much of the material was classified and stored in a highly secure section of the intelligence agency, but sources say hundreds of people would have had access to the material. Investigators are going through those names.”
Investigators surmise the source of the massive leak was either an agent of the CIA or a contractor with the agency — someone with physical access — rather than an outside hacker.
In a statement coinciding with the Vault 7 release, Wikileaks announced,
“The archive appears to have been circulated among former US government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner, one of whom has provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive […]
“In a statement to WikiLeaks the source details policy questions that they say urgently need to be debated in public, including whether the CIA’s hacking capabilities exceed its mandated powers and the problem of public oversight of the agency. The source wishes to initiate a public debate about the security, creation, use, proliferation and democratic control of cyberweapons.”
Unnamed sources from inside the U.S. Intelligence Community told Reuters less than 24 hours after Wikileaks published the first selection of the damning cache of documents the agency had expected their public disclosure since 2016.
Officials from the CIA and FBI quickly reviewed the case and, within one day, initiated a joint investigation of the release — including the internal manhunt in question.
Wikileaks — itself, fraught by rumors of enemy State collusion and political opportunism — was lambasted by CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who also had choice words for the pro-transparency organization’s founder, Julian Assange, in his first public comments since taking that role:
“It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is: A non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.”
Wikileaks founder and editor Julian Assange — incidentally deemed a “demon” by Pompeo — responded to the wholly unproven accusation, stating,
“In fact, the reason Pompeo is launching this attack is because he understands we are exposing in this series all sorts of illegal actions by the CIA, so he’s trying to get ahead of the publicity curve and create a preemptive defense.”
Former CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell claimed within days of the Vault 7 disclosure it had to be an ‘inside job.’
“This data is not shared outside CIA,” Morell said. “It’s only inside CIA. It’s on CIA’s top secret network, which is not connected to any other network. So, this has to be an inside job.”
Investigators continue to pour over the hundreds of names of hundreds of contractors and agents who would have had physical access to the high-security area, urgently seeking the unknown person or persons who could have managed such a devastating theft of information.
Given the nature and scope of Wikileaks’ trove — estimated of greater impact than spying practices revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden — whoever was behind the breach is likely to become a transparency and anti-surveillance folk hero.
Thus far, the CIA has not commented on the ongoing probe — nor on the authenticity of documents in the Wikileaks trove.
Assange, in the same statement released in tandem with Vault 7, noted the content of the cache,
“The disclosure is also exceptional from a political, legal and forensic perspective.”