Report: Trump Gave CIA Free Rein in Cyberspace

Report: Trump Gave CIA Free Rein in Cyberspace
CIA Director Gina Haspel arrives for a briefing with members of the U.S. House of Representatives about the situation with Iran, at the U.S. Capitol on January 8, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Drew Angerer, Getty Images)

An explosive Yahoo News report out Wednesday describes the Trump administration’s efforts to expand the Central Intelligence Agency’s power in 2018 to launch offensive cyberattacks against America’s foes.

Under a secret 2018 presidential finding, the CIA is given the power to more easily authorise its own offensive cyberattacks against specific foreign adversaries and organisations suspected of working on their behalf, Yahoo News reports, citing former U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the matter. The targets reportedly authorised under the presidential directive include Russia China, Iran, and North Korea; however, the finding could be interpreted to apply to others as well, a former official told Yahoo.

According to Yahoo, the presidential finding — which the CIA has already reportedly used to launch “at least a dozen operations that were on its wish list” — lowered the evidentiary threshold for use of covert actions against seemingly private entities believed by the CIA to operate on behalf of rival foreign intelligence, such as charities and media organisations. Former officials told Yahoo that the directive significantly curtailed the vetting process used by the CIA to confirm a potential target is linked to a foreign threat.

The report further attributes the CIA with engaging in so-called “hack-and-dump” activities: breaking into foreign servers hosting sensitive information about adversaries, such as financial records, and leaking them online. While not directly attributing the attacks to the CIA, Yahoo notes at least two hack-and-dump operations last year targeted Iranian intelligence officers and banks tied to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

According to Yahoo, some former officials have expressed concern over the CIA’s expanded authority in cyberspace, saying that even when subjected to National Security Council oversight, the agency’s cyber operations often lack needed transparency.