There’s more than one moment in the 2006 thriller The Good Shepherd, when any rational movie watcher thinks, “Crap, does Matt Damon know what he’s doing, setting up the CIA as the most powerful spy agency in the world?” Those doubts, however, seem quaint thanks to the recent revelation that a crew of CIA contractors crafted a scheme to steal thousands of dollars worth of snacks from the agency’s snack machines.
And they pulled it off. They got fired, sure, but they pulled it off.
According to recently declassified documents acquired by BuzzFeed, the contractors in question managed to steal “vending goods by disconnecting the FreedomPay network termination cables connecting to Agency vending machines”. We’re not talking about a stray Snickers bar here or there, either. The contractors apparently made off with over $US3000 ($3969) of vending machine treats in a period stretching from the spring of 2012 to the autumn of 2013, making this easily the greatest CIA operation in the history of the organisation.
Just take a step back and think about it. It’s the heart of the Obama administration, and it seems like much of America has forgotten about the CIA’s habit of torturing potential witnesses and orchestrating assassinations in order to stage coups in other countries. Why not steal some snacks, am I right?
That’s exactly what this cabal of CIA contractors did, according to a memorandum from the Office of the Inspector General. They hacked into some CIA vending machines and stole some snacks. The operation is admirable not only because of the impressive ingenuity of those involved, but also because of the fact that nobody appears to have been tortured or murdered in the process. Yes, the government lost a few bucks due to the stolen M&Ms, Bounty bars, and possibly a Doritos bag or two. But for the most part, it seems like a largely victimless crime.
Spies, of course, need snacks just like everybody else. In the decades leading up to the Great CIA Vending Machine Hack of 2012, however, spies were using those snacks to fuel much more controversial missions. You have Project Mockingbird, for example, a sweeping effort by the CIA to control the hearts and minds of American citizens in 1950s with straight up propaganda. A few years later, the CIA attempted to assassinate Fidel Castro using dozens of different methods, including the use of exploding cigars, toxic molluscs, poisonous fountain pens, and a tainted chocolate milkshake served at the Havana Hilton. More recently, North Korea claims that the agency hired a Russian lumberjack to assassinate Kim Jong Un with radioactive nanoparticles. (It’s unclear, however, if that last plot is made up.)
But seriously, some stolen snacks that capitalised on a seemingly obvious vulnerability in the cyber security of vending machines? That’s a good operation. Even if the now-fired contractors technically broke the law, they proved that the CIA is not a flawless organisation. They also managed to do so without violence or disruption of the modern world order. We hope they all have nice jobs at Google now.