The publication of a top secret National Security Agency report on Russian interference in the US election Monday was just the latest in a string of disruptive leaks.
US authorities arrested a 25-year-old woman, Reality Leigh Winner, who worked for an NSA subcontractor, soon after the report was posted by The Intercept, a news website.
In an age of digitized data and advanced encryption, it appears to have gotten harder to keep secrets.
Here are the most spectacular leaks to rock US spy agencies in recent years:
Assange launched the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks in 2006, but it was only in 2010 when it showed the power of leaks in the digital age. Manning, an army private doing intelligence work in Iraq and disturbed by US policies, downloaded hundreds of thousands of pages of US diplomatic communications and secret Iraq war files, handing them over to Assange’s operation.
The Manning leaks exploded over the internet, stirring tensions with US allies and undermining trust and exposing confidential sources of intelligence.
In 2013, Edward Snowden released to journalists Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald a set of files detailing extra-legal surveillance operations by the NSA. Snowden had worked for the NSA and CIA, lastly employed via Booz Allen Hamilton, a powerful private firm that contracts a huge amount of work for US intelligence. Snowden’s revelations exposed US spying on its allies, including tapping the phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. They also forced the US government to curb the NSA’s wholesale collection on Americans’ communications data.
After the first Snowden revelations, Greenwald and others, backed by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, launched The Intercept in 2014. The online news website has continued to publish Snowden materials and has regularly attracted leaks of other secret materials, including the NSA Russia hacking report it posted on Monday. In 2015, The Intercept also reported on British intelligence materials showing a plan to monitor as much of the internet and global communications as possible.
– The NSA and the Shadow Brokers –
In 2016, a mysterious individual or group calling itself the Shadow Brokers appeared online offering for sale a portfolio of tools and exploits from the NSA’s ultra-secret hacking team known as the Equation Group. No one took up the offer, and since then the Shadow Brokers, believed to be Russian or Eastern European, has trickled out parts of the portfolio to demonstrate how genuine and potent they are. One NSA exploit revealed on April 14 was used a month later by hackers in a global wave of cyber-attacks and ransomware extortion. It remains unclear how the Equation group materials were taken from the NSA.
Martin was arrested in August 2016 after investigators discovered he had amassed an “astonishing quantity” of classified information over two decades in his suburban Maryland home. Like Snowden he had worked for the NSA via contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. It remains unclear what Martin did, if anything, with the information; he has been charged only with taking secret materials against the rules of his employment contract, rather than espionage.
Since March, WikiLeaks has been steadily releasing nearly 9,000 documents from the CIA’s hacking program, a cyber-arsenal it calls “Vault 7.” WikiLeaks suggested it received the files from a private contractor of the intelligence community. The data provides a window into how the CIA, like the NSA, breaks into computers and cellphones using software and hardware vulnerabilities, many of which are still open to exploitation. “The source wishes to initiate a public debate about the security, creation, use, proliferation and democratic control of cyberweapons,” WikiLeaks said.
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