Secret Order By Trump Gave More Power To CIA To Launch Cyber Attacks

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Written by Ann Brown
CIA
A secret order by Trump gave more power to the CIA to launch cyberattacks against other countries such as Iran, Russia, China, and others. Photo: In this Nov. 9, 2017, file photo, U.S. President Donald Trump, right, chats with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Seeking China’s help on isolating North Korea through economic sanctions, Trump backed off a threat to label China a currency manipulator. He was off-and-on conciliatory on trade during an extended visit to Asia in November, and China announced it would lift restrictions on foreign investment in its banks and other financial institutions. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File)

An order by Trump has remained hush-hush for nearly two years. In 2018, Trump signed authorization for the CIA to conduct a series of covert cyber operations against Iran and other targets. The orders were revealed by former U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

Under the secret authorization, known as a presidential finding, the CIA has more freedom not only in the types of operations it conducts but also who it targets. “The presidential finding apparently undid restrictions created by previous administrations, allowing the agency to authorize more of its own operations instead of waiting for White House approval, CNet reported.

It was created to let the U.S. go on the offensive against “adversarial countries” like Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and others, according to the report, which cited unnamed former U.S. officials.

This means the CIA goes unchecked as Trump’s finding permits the CIA to more easily authorize its own covert cyber operations, rather than requiring the agency to get approval from the White House, Yahoo reported.

This directive was pushed by the National Security Council and crafted by the CIA.  

The “very aggressive” finding “gave the agency very specific authorities to really take the fight offensively to a handful of adversarial countries,” said a former U.S. government official. These countries include Russia, China, Iran and North Korea — which are mentioned directly in the document — but the finding potentially applies to others as well, according to another former official. “The White House wanted a vehicle to strike back,” said the second former official. “And this was the way to do it.”

Many observers say this is a dangerous slope the CIA is on. “Our government is basically turning into f****ing WikiLeaks, [using] secure communications on the dark web with dissidents, hacking and dumping,” said one such former official to Yahoo. 

The CIA’s new cyber powers prompted major concerns among some officials. “Trump came in and way overcorrected,” said a former official. 

BBC Russia reported in July 2019 that hackers had breached the network of SyTech, a company that does work for the FSB, Russia’s spy agency, and stolen about 7.5 terabytes of data; the data from that hack was passed to media organizations.

Another hack-and-dump operation in March 2019 was posted on the Internet chat platform Telegram the names, addresses, phone numbers, and photos of Iranian intelligence officers as well as hacking tools used by Iranian intelligence operatives. 

“That November, the details of 15 million debit cards for customers of three Iranian banks linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps were also dumped on Telegram,” Yahoo reported.

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Sources haven’t revealed if the CIA was behind those Iran breaches but the agency did benefit from the information.

The CIA’s new powers expand the agency’s ability to target Iran and other foreign adversaries 

“If you’re doing something on someone’s network and you have friendly forces also on the network, you don’t want to have fratricide,” said a former senior military intelligence official. Even inside the U.S. intelligence community, the CIA has a reputation for secrecy, according to former officials. The CIA’s “deconfliction is poor, they’re not keeping people in the loop on what their cyber operations are,” said another former official.