The release of documents has been carefully selected to try and put Assange’s own paranoid spin on things, which has been accepted by the press who do not seem interested in looking at the case further.
In a normal world, we might be prepared to give Assange the benefit of the doubt and accept the documents leak at face value. But after the US elections showed that Wikileaks up as a tool for the Russian government, accepting Assange’s spin on the documents is risky. CNET points out that there is no way of knowing if the documents have been tinkered with by Assange or his Russian handlers.
The documents proport to show how the US spy agency can crack open devices from Apple, Samsung, Google and Microsoft. Assange wants us to believe that the documents suggest the agency was able to break into the underlying operating systems running iPhones, Android phones and Windows and Linux computers.
“This means it has access to data stored on the device, and even encrypted messages sent through popular services like WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram. In other cases, the hacks can turn gadgets like the Samsung Smart TV into listening devices,” WikiLeaks said.
What is interesting about this is that we have heard all this before, and indeed some of the backdoors mentioned in the documents have been spotted and closed by manufacturers ages ago.
Another issue is that it's unlikely the CIA is the only group that knows about the holes that let these hacking tools crack into phones and other devices. There's no reason to think these vulnerabilities are not also known to the Chinese, the Russians.
Another issue is that last year we saw how powerless the authorities were when faced with trying to crack into an iPhone 6. Were the CIA’s hacking prowess all that Assange claims then this would have been small potatoes.
Assange also editorialises his brand of paranoia in the notes making claims that one hack which takes control of a car “could mean that the CIA could assassinate people and make it look like an accident”. Assange has the fundamental belief that the CIA bumps people off and especially important people like him. There are lot of more useful reasons to take control of a car than wet work. Interesting this angle is the one which has been taken by the tabloids, which means most of them fell for it.
The main thing about these documents it that the CIA is not trying to break encryption of messaging systems. In fact, it is following the bog standard hacking approach of looking for holes in software and exploiting them. But what did anyone think they were doing?
Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked documents detailing NSA spy programs to journalists in 2013, wrote about the WikiLeaks documents Tuesday on Twitter. He said hacking the operating system is “worse” than hacking encrypted messaging services like WhatsApp.
He pointed out that the news stories were incorrectly implying that CIA had hacked these apps / encryption when the docs show iOS/Android are what got hacked - a much bigger problem.
The rest of the document disclosures are just so obvious to be mundane. The documents describe a vast CIA hacking operation covertly based in the US consulate in Frankfurt and covering Europe, the Middle East and Africa. It is probably greater news from a US security stand point if the organisation did NOT have such an operation.
The documents are padded out with instructions to help officers on temporary duty get through German immigration easily and get euros, and a reminder not to leave electronics or sensitive items unattended in hotel rooms.
What is amazing is the speed that the press rushed to print this stuff, completely with Assange’s spin, clearly without reading much of it. Most of it is very old news, sheesh even Apple said it has corrected the flaw mentioned in the documents and it takes months to do that.
We would prefer to see Assange obtain a bit more street cred by releasing a few more Russian documents or something that might embarrass Tsar Putin, Trump’s tax returns, or something about the current US government. Until then we are just seeing a vision of the world as he wants it, and the view of the world from someone who is on the run for sex offenses, and who promises to turn himself in if Bradley Manning is released and then refuses to do so when Manning is released is not someone anyone can trust.