Did the CIA Murder a Dangerous Journalist, Michael Hastings?
The late journalist Michael Hastings returned to the news after WikiLeaks released new information about the CIA’s hacking capabilities. Hastings died on June 18th, 2013 after his Mercedes reached dangerously high speeds and crashed into a palm tree. His car exploded, and his body was burnt beyond recognition. He was later identified by his fingerprints. Although Hastings’ death was formally ruled an accident, many have provided alternative theories behind his demise.
As a journalist, Michael Hastings was a controversial figure who garnered both frustration and respect from his peers. New York Magazine recounted the opinion of one fellow journalist:
The truth is he was parachuting in to do something all of us wish we can do and can’t. When someone comes in and says he’s not going to play by the rules, it touches a nerve, but also there’s respect.”
In June 2010, Rolling Stone published his article that led to the resignation of General Stanley McChrystal. He then began to receive all kinds of attention. He claimed to have received numerous death threats, but he initially brushed them off as par for the course. Prior to his death, he was investigating then-CIA Director John Brennan. Citing concerns for his own safety, Hastings told friends that he was going to fall off the radar for a while.
While it is still uncertain if foul play was involved in Michael Hastings’ death, the new WikiLeaks release brought to mind a common theory surrounding the tragedy. Many have alleged that the computer system on his Mercedes was hijacked by the government and that his automobile wreck was no accident at all, but, rather, a political assassination.
Up until now, it was unclear if the United States Government had the capabilities to hack into a civilian’s electronic devices, including automobiles. WikiLeaks has provided new information on this in its report “Vault 7: CIA Hacking Tools Revealed.” It begins:
Today, Tuesday 7th March 2017, WikiLeaks begins its new series of leaks on the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Code-named “Vault 7” by WikiLeaks, it is the largest ever publication of confidential documents on the agency.
The first full part of the series, “Year Zero”, comprises 8,761 documents and files from an isolated, high-security network situated inside the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence.”
The report states that the CIA recently “lost control of the majority of its hacking arsenal including malware, viruses, trojans, and weaponized ‘zero day’ exploits,” which “gives its possessor the entire hacking capacity of the CIA.”
It goes on to explain that the CIA has illegally and intentionally withheld from technology companies knowledge of the vulnerabilities within their digital platforms. They have withheld this information so they may infiltrate them for government use.
The potential for breaching affects all major platforms and operating systems. The report continues, “As long as the CIA keeps these vulnerabilities concealed from Apple and Google (who make the phones) they will not be fixed, and the phones will remain hackable.”
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) March 7, 2017
The alternative theories surrounding Michael Hastings’ death now appear more credible. The United States Government, as the report reveals, may have the capability to spy on or control its citizens via almost any remote device, including the computer systems now widely uses in American automobiles. As Twitter users pointed out, even Mark Zuckerberg protects his own laptop from political espionage.
The report goes on to explain that this hacking arsenal is unsecured and leaves the government itself vulnerable to attack:
Cyber ‘weapons’ are in fact just computer programs which can be pirated like any other. Since they are entirely comprised of information they can be copied quickly … to be used by peer states, cyber mafia and teenage hackers alike.”
The report also reveals a CIA program called “UMBRAGE.” Cyber attacks leave behind a so-called “digital fingerprint” that allows forensic investigators to trace a cyber attack. Under UMBRAGE, CIA hackers are able to “misdirect attribution by leaving behind the ‘fingerprints’ of the groups that the attack techniques were stolen from.”
In other words, a hacker can copy and save a digital signature from another source (say, Moscow) and “plant it” at the scene of their own cyber attack. This would lead forensic investigators to misappropriate blame to an innocent party, as in the practice of planting fingerprints at a crime scene. This could mean that the CIA itself posed as “Russian hackers” regarding the fake news story about Russia hacking the 2016 Presidential election.
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) March 7, 2017
“Vault 7” may be one of the biggest revelations of the decade, and there is still more to be released. The report states that “Details on the other parts will be available at the time of publication.”