Once Wikileaks released thousands of documents uncovering the extensive scope of the US CIA’s hacking, including a wide range of programs and backdoors that allow the wiretapping of smartphones, personal computers and even smart TVs, the whole world has once again had the chance to learn that it’s not the mysterious “Russian hackers” that pose the greatest threat to the international security, but rather the CIA itself. The tale of “Russian hackers”, extensively used by the CIA and closely affiliated agencies in their propaganda war was used to whitewash American intelligence agencies who have established total surveillance over their own politicians and those governing foreign states.
Therefore, it is not surprising that today the CIA was subjected to extensive criticism both on the international stage and within the United States. The spokesman for the Citizens’ Civil Liberties Protection Group, Nathan White, is convinced that digital security has been jeopardized for years because of the CIA’s malicious practices of collecting information about vulnerabilities, instead of seeking cooperation with companies to address them.
The CIA documents describe methods that allow them to break into the operating systems of both Android and iOS, enabling themselves to read the messages sent through WhatsApp and Signal, while bypassing the encryption used by those apps.
The documents released by WikiLeaks showed that the CIA, together with its counterparts from British special services, even found a way of hacking Samsung’s Smart TVs by adapting some of the tools they had to monitor the owners of such TV sets. Within the framework of the project, codenamed Weeping Angel, the CIA learned ways to secretly turn on the built-in microphone. Moreover, the exploit allowed Western intelligence services to make it when the TV seemed turned off, it was in fact still recording all conversations around it to be later transmitted to the CIA’s servers. Recently on The Late Show, former CIA director Michael Hayden confirmed the existence of such a tool in the CIA arsenal and even called it “wonderful.” According to him, “bad people also use Samsung TVs.” He has also stated that the CIA didn’t plan to use this surveillance strategy “against fellow Americans.” As for the people from other countries, he did not specify details, thus making it clear that there were various opportunities.
In the documents published by WikiLeaks, nothing is said about other TV models, but this does not mean that the CIA or other special services did not find a way to hack into them. Moreover, in 2013, it was revealed that LG televisions, even if users turned off all “data collection” settings, they still collected all sorts of information about them.
Sony TVs, by the way, are also collecting information about the habits of their viewers and send it “where necessary”. In older televisions models, there’s a function called Disable Upload Data which was pretty specific in the way it worked.
The WikiLeaks revelations showed that the CIA has been taking advantage of the US consulate in Frankfurt to conduct hacker operations all across Europe, which triggered an investigation opened by the Federal Prosecutor’s Office of the Federal Republic of Germany. However, it is unlikely that any of these “investigations” will lead to any steps against the agency that carries out unlawful espionage activities in Germany. After all, similar facts were made public before and no measures were taken by Angela Merkel and her government at the time. For those who don’t remember such facts, it would be beneficial to recall that as early as 2014, US intelligence services had been collecting data about German citizens, as if it was a vassal state under its control. Moreover, for several years, the German intelligence service BND within the framework of a special operation named Eikanal, transmitted data about its citizens to the US National Security Agency (NSA), through the world’s largest point of exchange of Internet traffic DE-CIX in Frankfurt, as it’s been reported by Suddeutsche Zeitung. According to the released data, the NSA thus intercepted up to 500 million telephone calls and Internet messages every month. And all this was done in spite of the fact that private information about German citizens is protected by the Constitution of Germany
But Germany is not the only target, as similar activities were carried on in Britain and a number of other countries. So, in 2015, the Guardian stated that for at least 7 years straight, intercepted electronic messages sent by US citizens and British subjects in the UK, along with those sent by millions of foreigners, were shared with US intelligence agencies by the Center for Government Communication of Great Britain. Those actions resulted in a special tribunal recognizing the UK’s direct violation of international conventions on human rights, all while US spying continues all across Europe.
Moreover, on February 19, 2015, it became known that the NSA and its British partner, the Government Communications Headquarters, had stolen the encryption keys of the world’s largest SIM card manufacturer Gemalto, which allowed these agencies to wiretap phone conversations and intercept data sent by mobile devices that have a SIM card produced by Gemalto installed in them. This revelation was made public by The Intercept.
The New York Times would note that, the CIA scrambled to assess and contain the damage from the release by WikiLeaks of thousands of documents that cataloged the agency’s cyberspying capabilities, temporarily halting work on some projects.
But in order to stop these espionage activities of the US around the world, international players must begin asking question and applying pressure on Washington through the UN and through other international organizations, for its numerous violations of the most basic of human rights. And the international community must impose severe sanctions on the US through court decisions for this blatant case of espionage.
Jean Périer is an independent researcher and analyst and a renowned expert on the Near and Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”