Trump's supporters quickly rallied around this latest leak as evidence that the CIA has become too powerful and entrenched in government. A calmer reading of the situation suggests the CIA is merely doing its job—wouldn't you expect an intelligence agency to be able to spy on electronics? Instead, the real story is how the leak got out in the first place. This leak does not reveal mass surveillance programs or illegal activity, but it does compromise U.S. efforts to obtain intelligence worldwide. That's a big deal.
The story here isn’t that the CIA hacks people. Of course they do; taxpayers would be right to be annoyed if that weren’t the case. The CIA’s job, after all, is collect intelligence, and while its primary purview is human intelligence, hacking systems interacts synergistically with that collection. The actual headline here is that someone apparently managed to compromise a Top Secret CIA development environment, exfiltrate a whole host of material, and is now releasing it to the world. The compromise appears to have occurred in February or March 2016.
The leak's timing is suspicious, as it undermines the intelligence community while simultaneously backing up Donald Trump's lie about Obama wiretapping him. WikiLeaks has not hid its support for Trump in the past. It's reasonable to think these leaks are also politically motivated.
It would be a pretty extreme violation for someone with a Top Secret clearance to spread this archive around, and it is exceedingly strange a “whistleblower” would use Wikileaks instead of an actual news outfit like the Guardian or the Washington Post. To my mind, there are pretty limited suspects who would have both the capability of exfiltrating from a Top Secret CIA network and who would want to both boast about it and damage the CIA by releasing this archive to Wikileaks. Presumably more information will emerge on this count.
This shouldn’t distract us from the real story, however. Around a year ago, it looks like someone compromised a Top Secret CIA system and exfiltrated untold amounts of data. And now the world wants to know who, and how, and why.
The New Yorker's Amy Davidson hones in on the five big questions we still don't know about the leaks. The leaks do not show the CIA has abused power or used them against American citizens. However, it is forcing people to confront tough policy questions about electronic spying and how much power we want to give the government.
How many ways might the C.I.A. be watching?
How much have private companies compromised themselves and their customers?