WikiLeaks publishes more secret CIA tools after the US threatens criminal charges

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange makes a speech from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy, in central London.
Thomson Reuters

WikiLeaks released another trove of information on the Central Intelligence Agency’s secrets Friday afternoon, after the Justice Department said it was considering criminal charges against the organization and its founder, Julian Assange.

The latest release is a 31-page user guide for a CIA device called “Weeping Angel” that was posted online on Friday, CBS News reported. The tool was able to turn Samsung televisions into surveillance tools – by way of activating the television’s built-in microphone to record audio.

The tool was co-developed by the CIA and the UK’s MI5 intelligence agency, CNET reported in March. It was designed to “pretend” to turn itself off by deactivating the screen and front LED lights, while using the television’s built-in microphone to record conversations, CNET’s report alleged.

Samsung released a statement addressing the vulnerability in March, saying “Protecting consumers’ privacy and the security of our devices is a top priority at Samsung. We are aware of the report in question and are urgently looking into the matter.”

The latest leak follows the battle between WikiLeaks, the Justice Department and CIA, where officials denounced the leaking of classified government material, and had reopened the case to prosecute the controversial organization. Government officials also announced that they were actively pursuing a possible CIA insider who they believe was responsible for the security breach.

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

“We are going to step up our effort and already are stepping up our efforts on all leaks,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a news conference on Thursday. “This is a matter that’s gone beyond anything I’m aware of.”

“We have professionals that have been in the security business of the United States for many years that are shocked by the number of leaks and some of them are quite serious,” Sessions continued. “So yes, it is a priority. We’ve already begun to step up our efforts and whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail.”

Meanwhile, WikiLeaks maintains that it is no different from a genuine news organization, and that its activities are protected by the First Amendment.

“The fact of the matter is – however frustrating it might be to whoever looks bad when information is published – WikiLeaks is a publisher, and they are publishing truthful information that is in the public’s interest,” said Barry J. Pollack, Assange’s attorney, in The Washington Post. “Democracy thrives because there are independent journalists reporting on what it is that the government is doing.”

Some civil rights organizations have railed against the US government’s rhetoric on data leaks. Ben Wizner with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project said in a statement to Business Insider: “Never in the history of this country has a publisher been prosecuted for presenting truthful information to the public.”

“Any prosecution of Wikileaks for publishing government secrets would set a dangerous precedent that the Trump administration would surely use to target other news organizations.”