Federal law enforcement authorities believe it was a vetted member of the U.S. intelligence community — either an official CIA employee or a contractor — who supplied WikiLeaks with a trove of documents that the anti-secrecy group published last month purporting to expose the agency’s vast clandestine cyberoperations.
While the CIA has refused to comment on an investigation into the matter, intelligence sources who spoke anonymously with The Washington Times on Thursday did not push back against the veracity of news reports that the agency and the FBI are engaged in a manhunt for the suspected leaker within the U.S. government.
CNN reported Thursday night that federal prosecutors are separately weighing whether to bring criminal charges against members of the WikiLeaks organization, taking a second look at a 2010 leak of diplomatic cables and military documents as well as last month’s CIA leak.
The network cited unnamed sources behind the claim, but noted that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had said at a news conference Thursday that the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been holed up inside the Ecuadoran embassy in London since 2012, is a “priority.”
CBS News had reported Wednesday, citing sources familiar with the investigation, that a federal investigation has found that the classified CIA cyberdocuments published by WikiLeaks last month were originally stored in a highly secure section of the agency. Authorities are reportedly searching for an individual from among the hundreds who had physical access to the material.
On March 7, WikiLeaks began releasing a stream of documents detailing the CIA’s alleged offensive cyberoperations — including the agency’s purported capability of turning smartphones, laptops and internet-connected TVs into listening devices and spy cameras.
WikiLeaks said in a statement at the time that the thousands of documents were tied to programs tied to the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence.
The documents show the global scope of the CIA’s covert hacking operations and “weaponized exploits against a wide range of U.S. and European company products, includ[ing] Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android, Microsoft’s Windows and even Samsung TVs,” WikiLeaks claimed.
The leak is seen to have rankled the CIA, whose office of public affairs has pushed back, but refused to comment on the materials.
In light of this week’s CBS report, Heather Fritz Horniak, a CIA spokesperson circulated a statement to reporters asserting that the agency “has no comment on the authenticity of purported intelligence documents released by Wikileaks or on the status of any investigation into the source of the documents.”
“The American public should be deeply troubled by any Wikileaks disclosure designed to damage the Intelligence Community’s ability to protect America,” Ms. Horniak said. “Such disclosures not only jeopardize U.S. personnel and operations, but also equip our adversaries with tools and information to do us harm.”
“It is important to note that CIA is legally prohibited from conducting electronic surveillance targeting individuals here at home, including our fellow Americans, and CIA does not do so,” she added. “CIA’s activities are subject to rigorous oversight to ensure that they comply fully with U.S. law and the Constitution.”
With the purported cyberoperations leak as a backdrop, last week CIA Director Mike Pompeo hurled sharp public criticism at WikiLeaks.
In his first extended public remarks since being tapped by President Trump to head the spy agency, Mr. Pompeo compared the anti-secrecy organization to “a hostile intelligence service” working with Russia to undermine American democracy.
Moscow blasted back this week, with Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova asserting that the CIA is using WikiLeaks for its own political purposes.
“What’s interesting is that the CIA director has used WikiLeaks resources with much success,” Ms. Zakharova told reporters at a foreign ministry briefing. “He used them for official purposes — even though, in his opinion, all these internet resources and related people are traitors and do other countries’ bidding.”