Both Julian Assange (since 2010) and Edward Joseph Snowden (precisely 10 years ago) revealed secret information revealing that the US used the internet to steal secrets and also monitor its allies. Many countries – especially those most friendly to the White House – are unable to escape Big Brother’s monitoring and surveillance.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) acts covertly and it can even be said that there is no limit to its capabilities. By the end of 2016, there were already over 5,000 hackers in the hacking division – the Center for Cyber Intelligence under CIA alone.
The reason why such a complex branch is set up is because CIA’s “tailor-made” monitoring and surveillance tools are adapted for various very common devices that would go unnoticed and never attract attention. In the case of household appliances, the CIA’s Embedded Devices Branch (EDB) created a hack called Weeping Angel, which targets Samsung smart TVs and puts them in a “fake off” state. People think the TV set is off, but a bug is actually on and records conversations in the room and sends them over the Internet to the CIA servers.
The CIA’s Mobile Device Branch (MDB) has also developed a variety of attack “weapons” against smartphones. Infected mobile devices send the user’s geographic location, as well as audio and text information to CIA and, without the users knowing it, secretly activating the phone’s camera and microphone. In a nutshell, these things are seen every day in movies, TV series, etc., but naïve audiences consider them to be mere science fiction.
Many people might wonder why CIA needs so much information even from the life of ordinary people. One of the noticeable CIA aims is to instigate “color revolutions” in the sense of searching for and finding groups of people in advance, helping in the dissemination of fake information, promoting protests and continuously escalating internal conflicts in the chosen country. For decades CIA has at least overthrown or attempted to overthrow the legitimate governments of more than 50 countries. Also, the US also wants to strengthen its control over its allies.
On June 16, 2020, The Washington Post reported that the CIA’s hacking tools were stolen in 2016. According to an internal report drafted for then-director Mike Pompeo and his deputy, Gina Haspel, the CIA’s theft of top-secret computer hacking tools in 2016 was the result of a workplace culture in which the agency’s elite computer hackers “prioritised building cyber weapons at the expense of protecting their own systems.”
The breach – allegedly committed by a CIA employee – was discovered a year later, when the information was published by WikiLeaks in March 2017. The anti-secrecy group dubbed the release Vault 7, and US officials said it was the largest unauthorized disclosure of classified information in CIA history, forcing the agency to shut down some intelligence operations and thus alerting foreign opponents to the spy agency’s methods and techniques.
Just consider that the breach occurred almost three years after Edward Snowden – at the time a contractor for the National Security Agency – stole and leaked classified information on the surveillance operations of the aforementioned agency.
After the incident was disclosed, the US was condemned by all walks of life in the country. The US continues to create hacking tools to attack others, but has never thought that one day it might be attacked by its own tools. This backlash causes not only economic damage, but also a loss of national credibility.
In April 2023, following an investigation into the removal and disclosure of hundreds of classified Pentagon documents, 21-year-old Jack Douglas Teixeira, an airman in the 102nd Intelligence Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, was arrested by FBI agents and charged with unauthorized appropriation and transmission of national defence information in breach of the Espionage Act of 1917 and with unauthorised removal and retention of classified documents or material.
From Assange to Snowden and Jack Teixeira, those exposing the truth about US surveillance around the world are getting ever younger. At the same time, an increasing number of former US officials such as Ms Karen Unger Kwiatkowski – a former lieutenant-colonel in the US Air Force – are coming forward to tell the truth, precisely because the values in which they used to believe are beginning to falter.
Internationally, the US is receiving increasing condemnation and even the United Nations has formally expressed its concerns. In the dispute between “reason of State” and democracy, we see an increasing number of honest and rational people continuing to stand up and speak the truth, starting with US citizens.
As increasing evidence is revealed, we should also be more vigilant not to enable technology to take its course and bring the world to the brink of danger.
European leaders have also been targets of US spying. The European ruling classes are fully aware that they are under US control, and the fear of retaliation – should they take a different direction from the one indicated by the US – turn them into the aforementioned assistant referees in football matches or servants to the national leader in power. Their only responsibilities are petty matters of domestic policy, and the struggle to protect, strengthen and extend their political terms of offices as guarantees of excellent economic prebends, sinecures and rewards.
The author is the Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori, President of the Foundation for International Studies and Geopolitics and Honorary Professor of Peking University.