Mole hunt at Langley: Latest Wikileaks cache came from "traitor" within CIA

Who’s up for an old-fashioned mole hunt? When Wikileaks published a new trove of thousands of CIA documents regarding their cyberwarfare capabilities last month, the assumption was that either they got hacked by a foreign intelligence service, or someone on the inside was purloining the data. According to CBS News, both the CIA and FBI now believe it’s the latter — and they’re on the hunt for the “traitor” who exposed highly classified intelligence operations.

So how many people had access to this information? Oh, only a few hundred or so. Piece of cake, right?

CBS News has learned that a manhunt is underway for a traitor inside the Central Intelligence Agency.

The CIA and FBI are conducting a joint investigation into one of the worst security breaches in CIA history, which exposed thousands of top-secret documents that described CIA tools used to penetrate smartphones, smart televisions and computer systems.

Sources familiar with the investigation say it is looking for an insider — either a CIA employee or contractor — who had physical access to the material. The agency has not said publicly when the material was taken or how it was stolen.

Much of the material was classified and stored in a highly secure section of the intelligence agency, but sources say hundreds of people would have had access to the material. Investigators are going through those names.

Let’s just say this won’t make Congress much happier. After Edward Snowden absconded with highly classified NSA materials in 2013, Congress demanded tighter security from intelligence agencies, as well as some reforms on domestic surveillance. If this turns out to be another case of poorly vetted employees and contractors gaining access to materials outside their need-to-know status, heads should roll. Don’t hold your breath for that outcome, though; the VA left dozens of veterans on phony wait lists to die while managers collected bonuses, and we’re still waiting for heads to roll on that scandal.

This new focus certainly falls into line with CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s remarks last week that Wikileaks has become “a non-state hostile intelligence service.” The question is whether Wikileaks got any help in its intel trawl from “state actors like Russia,” to complete Pompeo’s formula. Or a better question: did Wikileaks just get the leftovers, and is the suspected mole actually working for a state actor? If so, what else has gotten out into the clear?

As for the word “traitor,” don’t expect that to be used in a legal sense. It fits in a moral and rhetorical sense, but it’s notoriously difficult to prosecute (and for good reasons), with fewer than 40 prosecution attempts in US history. The most recent prosecutions for treason were in the years following World War II, mainly involving Americans-turned-propagandists for the Axis powers. The Espionage Act will cover any crimes potentially committed in this case.