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12th Dec 2019

CIA used Frankfurt consulate to spy on Europeans

  • Protest against US dragnet surveillance tactics revealed by Edward Snowden (Photo: Valentina Pop)

The US intelligence agency, the CIA, has used the American consulate in Frankfurt as a covert base to carry out digital spy operations, Wikileaks revealed on Tuesday (7 March).

The Center for Cyber Intelligence Europe, based in the German city, was the base for CIA hackers covering Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, Wikileaks said. The information is based on documents from the agency's internal discussion forum.

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The leaked documents included a guide for CIA hackers on how to prepare for their trip to Germany.

“Be aware that your coworkers here are all under cover. While cover seems like an administrative thing back home, it is vital in the Field,” the guide said.

The document said the hackers' cover story should be “Supporting technical consultations at the Consulate”.

It also contained practical tips, like knowing when German holidays are, that on Sunday most shops are closed, and that they should not leave any electronic equipment in the hotel room.

“Paranoid, yes, but better safe then sorry.”

The guide also recommended flying with Lufthansa instead of United: “Booze is free so enjoy (within reason)!” and personal pages, like a long list of smileys.

The vast majority of the released documents – 8,761, according to WikiLeaks – appear to be technical information on possible hacking techniques.

It included information on how to exploit vulnerabilities in the security of Apple, Android, and Windows devices, but also Samsung TVs.

Big Brother

Some documents point to a collaboration with a counterpart from the United Kingdom. One indicated that at least nineteen “joint development workshops” had been held.

In the week of 16 June 2014, there was a US-UK joint workshop with MI5, the UK domestic intelligence agency, about how to hack into Samsung smart TVs, so that they could be used to eavesdrop.

The programme was called Weeping Angel.

“After infestation, Weeping Angel places the target TV in a 'Fake-Off' mode, so that the owner falsely believes the TV is off when it is on,” Wikileaks summarised in a press release.

“In 'Fake-Off' mode the TV operates as a bug, recording conversations in the room and sending them over the Internet to a covert CIA server,” it added.

The leaks bring to mind the uncovering of covert operations by the NSA, another US intelligence agency.

The man responsible for that leak, Edward Snowden, said on Tuesday in a tweet that the new reports showed that the US government is “developing vulnerabilities in US products, then intentionally keeping the holes open. Reckless beyond words.”

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