CIA has been conducting covert cyber ops against Iran and others ever since Trump signed secret, previously undisclosed, presidential finding in 2018 that gave sweeping authorization for such activity. Wrote w/ @zachsdorfman @JennaMC_Laugh @SeanDNaylor
The finding gave CIA more freedom in both the kinds of operations it conducts and who it targets, undoing many restrictions in place under prior administrations. And it effectively lets CIA self-authorize covert cyber ops, instead of needing approval from WH for each op.
The finding made it easier for CIA to launch destructive ops against critical infrastructure such as petrochemical plants, engage in the kind of hack-and-dump ops that Russian hackers and WikiLeaks popularized, and freed it to target entities previously off limits, such as banks
And it made it easier for CIA to target entities like foreign media orgs, charities, religious institutions and businesses believed to be working for an adversary's intel service by reducing amount of evidence needed to prove a connection between the entity and that foreign gov
“Before, you would need yrs of signals and dozens of pages of intel to show that this thing is a de facto arm of the government” a former official said. Now “as long as you can show that it vaguely looks like the charity is working on behalf of that government, then you’re good.”
Some think the finding is a much-needed reform that lets CIA act more nimbly. “People were doing backflips in the hallways [when it was signed],” one former official told us. But others see a potentially dangerous reduction in oversight, which could put people’s lives at risk...
CIA has wasted no time in exercising its new freedom. Since Trump signed the finding in 2018 CIA has launched at least a dozen ops: “a combination of destructive things—stuff is on fire and exploding—and also public dissemination of data: leaking or things that look like leaking”
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