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FBI prepares for new hunt for WikiLeaks’ source

Source: The Washington Post

The FBI has begun preparing for a major mole hunt to determine how anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks got an alleged arsenal of hacking tools the CIA has used to spy on espionage targets, according to people familiar with the matter.

The leak rattled government and technology industry officials, who spent Tuesday scrambling to determine the accuracy and scope of the thousands of documents released by the group. They were also trying to assess the damage the revelations may cause, and what damage may come from future releases promised by WikiLeaks, these people said.

It was all a familiar scenario for a government that has repeatedly seen sensitive information compromised in recent years.

In the wake of revelations from Army private Chelsea Manning and former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, officials sought to tighten security procedures, and federal agents came under greater pressure to find and prevent secrets from spilling out of the government.

But cracks keep appearing in the system. Last year, the FBI arrested Harold T. Martin III, an NSA contractor who took home documents detailing some of the agency’s most sensitive offensive cyberweapons. Some of those files later appeared online, although investigators are still trying to determine Martin’s role, if any, in that part of the case.

WikiLeaks says it has the CIA’s hacking secrets. Here’s what you need to know.

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WikiLeaks says it has a trove on the CIA’s hacking secrets. Washington Post national security reporter Greg Miller explains what these documents reveal. (Dalton Bennett, Greg Miller/The Washington Post)

He has pleaded not guilty to charges that he violated the Espionage Act. Officials call the Martin case the largest theft of classified information in U.S. history.

Now, less than a year after the Martin case, U.S. intelligence agencies are rushing to determine whether they again have suffered an embarrassing compromise at the hands of one of their own.

“Anybody who thinks that the Manning and Snowden problems were one-offs is just dead wrong,’’ said Joel Brenner, former head of U.S. counterintelligence at the office of the Director of National Intelligence. “Ben Franklin said three people can keep a secret if two of them are dead. If secrets are shared on systems in which thousands of people have access to them, that may really not be a secret anymore. This problem is not going away, and it’s a condition of our existence.’’

In Silicon Valley, industry figures said they received no heads-up from the government or the hacking community that such a move by WikiLeaks was in the works. By midday Tuesday, industry officials said they still had not heard from the FBI.

It wasn’t immediately clear if the CIA had sent a crimes report to the Justice Department — a formal mechanism alerting law enforcement of a potentially damaging and illegal national security leak. Such a report would offer the FBI a road map for where to begin investigating, and whom to question.

The FBI and CIA both declined to comment.

Once investigators verify the accuracy of the WikiLeaks documents, a key question to answer is who had access to the information, according to veterans of past leak probes. The FBI has spent years investigating WikiLeaks, and authorities are eager to figure out whether it has recruited a new, well-placed source from the U.S. government.

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