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“A Digital Pearl Harbor:” The Ways in Which the Vault 7 Leak Could Have Compromised US and British Assets’ Identities

The Julian Assange extradition defense yesterday started presenting evidence that Assange suffers from conditions — Aspergers, depression, and suicidal tendencies — that would make US prisons particularly lethal. It’s the defense that Lauri Love used to avoid extradition, and is Assange’s most likely chance of success. And given our inhumane prisons, it’s a perfectly fair defense against his extradition.

Before that, though, the most interesting evidence submitted by Assange’s team pertained to the three charges that he identified the identities of US and Coalition (and so, British) informants in the Afghan, Iraq, and Cablegate releases. For each of those releases, Assange’s team presented evidence that someone else — Cryptome, in one case, some Guardian journalists in another — released the informants’ identities first. At one point, the lawyer for the US seemed to suggest that Assange had made such disclosures more readily available after the identities had already been published. But Assange can only be extradited for charges that are illegal in the UK as well, and while the UK’s Official Secrets Act explicitly prohibits the publication of covert identities, it does not prohibit republication of names.

In other words, it’s the one evidentiary question where I think WikiLeaks might have the better case (the government has yet to present its own counter-evidence, and Assange has to prove that the charges are baseless to prevent the extradition, so it’s a high hurdle).

The question is particularly interesting for several reasons. Publishing the names of informants is the one charge specifically tied to publication, rather than conspiring to get Chelsea Manning to leak, making it dangerous for journalism in a different way than most of the other charges (save the CFAA charge).

But also because — in a Mike Pompeo screed that many WikiLeaks witnesses have cited completely out of context, in which the then-CIA Director named WikiLeaks a non-state hostile intelligence agency — he accused WikiLeaks of being like Philip Agee, a disillusioned CIA officer who went on to leak the identities of numerous CIA officers who was credibly accused of working with Cuban and Russian intelligence services.

So I thought I’d start today by telling you a story about a bright, well-educated young man. He was described as industrious, intelligent, and likeable, if inclined towards a little impulsiveness and impatience. At some point, he became disillusioned with intelligence work, and angry at his government. He left the government and decided to devote himself to what he regarded as public advocacy: exposing the intelligence officers and operations that he had sworn to keep secret. He appealed to agency employees to send him leads, tips, suggestions. He wrote in a widely-circulated bulletin quote “We are particularly anxious to receive – and anonymously, if you desire – copies of U.S. diplomatic lists and U.S. embassy staff,” end of quote.

That man was Philip Agee, one of the founding members of the magazine CounterSpy, which in its first issue, in 1973, called for the exposure of the CIA undercover operatives overseas. In its September 1974 issue, CounterSpy publicly identified Richard Welch as the CIA station chief in Athens. Later, Richard’s home address and phone number were outed in the press, in Greece. In December 1975, Richard and his wife were returning home from a Christmas party in Athens. When he got out of his car to open the gate in front of his house, Richard Welch was assassinated by a Greek terrorist cell.

At the time of his death, Richard was the highest-ranking CIA officer killed in the line of duty. He had led a rich and honorable life – one that is celebrated with a star on the agency’s memorial wall. He’s buried at Arlington National Cemetery, and has remained dearly remembered by his family and colleagues.

Meanwhile, Philip Agee propped up his dwindling celebrity with an occasional stunt, including a Playboy interview. He eventually settled down as the privileged guest of an authoritarian regime – one that would have put him in front of a firing squad without a second thought had he betrayed its secrets instead of ours.

Today, there are still plenty of Philip Agees in the world, and the harm they inflict on U.S. institutions and personnel is just as serious today as it was back then. They don’t come from the intelligence community, they don’t all share the same background, or use precisely the same tactics as Agee, but they are soulmates. Like him, they choose to see themselves under a romantic light as heroes above the law, saviors of our free and open society. They cling to this fiction even though their disclosures often inflict irreparable harm on both individuals and democratic governments, pleasing despots along the way.

The one thing they don’t share with Agee is the need for a publisher. All they require now is a smartphone and internet access. In today’s digital environment, they can disseminate stolen U.S. secrets instantly around the globe to terrorists, dictators, hackers and anyone else seeking to do us harm.

The reference to Richard Welch is inaccurate (in the same way the claim that WikiLeaks is responsible for release of these informants’ identities could be too). Much of the rest of what Pompeo said was tone-deaf, at best. And that Pompeo — who months earlier had been celebrating WikiLeaks’ cooperation with Russia in interfering in the 2016 election — said this is the kind of breathtaking hypocrisy he specializes in.

Still, I want to revisit Pompeo’s insinuation, made weeks after the release of the Vault 7 files, that Julian Assange is like Philip Agee. The comment struck me at the time, particularly given that the only thing he mentioned to back the claim — also floated during the Chelsea Manning trial — was that WikiLeaks’ releases had helped al-Qaeda.

And as for Assange, his actions have attracted a devoted following among some of our most determined enemies. Following the recent WikiLeaks disclosure, an al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula member posted a comment online thanking WikiLeaks for providing a means to fight America in a way that AQAP had not previously envisioned. AQAP represents one of the most serious threats to our country and around the world today. It’s a group that is devoted not only to bringing down civil passenger planes but our way of life as well. That Assange is the darling of these terrorists is nothing short of reprehensible. Have no doubt that the disclosures in recent years caused harm, great harm, to our nation’s national security, and they will continue to do so for the long term.

They also threaten the trust we’ve developed with our foreign partners when that trust is crucial currency among allies. They risk damaging morale for the good officers at the intelligence community and who take the high road every day. And I can’t stress enough how these disclosures have severely hindered our ability to keep you all safe.

But given what we’ve learned about the Vault 7 release since, I’d like to consider the multiple ways via which the Vault 7 identities could have — and did, in some cases — identify sensitive identities. Pompeo’s a flaming douchebag, and the CIA’s complaint about being targeted like it targets others is unsympathetic, but understanding Pompeo’s analogy to Agee provides some insight into why DOJ charged WikiLeaks in 2017 when it hadn’t in 2013.

Vault 7, justifiably or not, may have changed how the government treated WikiLeaks’ facilitation of the exposure of US intelligence assets.

Before I start, let me emphasize the Vault 7 leak is not charged in the superseding indictment against Assange, and Assange’s treatment of Vault 7 may be radically different than his earlier genuine attempts to at least forestall or delegate the publication of US informant identities. Even if DOJ’s understanding of WikiLeaks’ facilitation of the exposure of US intelligence assets may have changed with the Vault 7 release, DOJ understanding may not be correct. Nor do I think this changes the risk to journalism of the current charges, as charged.

But it may provide insight into why the government did charge those counts, and what a superseding indictment integrating the Vault 7 leak might look like.

First, although WikiLeaks made a big show of redacting the identities of the coders who developed the CIA’s hacking tools (as they did with the 2010 and 2011 releases), some were left unredacted in the content of the release. That may be unintentional. But the first FBI affidavit against accused Vault 7 leaker Joshua Schulte noted that the pseudonyms of the two other SysAdmins who had access to the files were left unredacted in the first release, something that suggests more intentional disclosure, one that would presumably require the involvement of Schulte or someone else who knew these identities.

i. Names used by the other two CIA Group Systems Administrators were, in fact, published in the publicly released Classified Information.

ii. SCHULTE’s name, on the other hand, was not apparently published in the Classified Inforamtion.

iii. Thus, SCHULTE was the only one of the three Systems Administrators with access to the Classified Information on the Back-Up Server who was not publicly identified via WikiLeaks’s publication of the Classified Information.

A subsequent WikiLeaks release (after the FBI had already made it clear he was a, if not the, suspect) would include Schulte’s username, but I believe that is distinguishable from the release of the other men’s cover names.

Schulte would later threaten to leak more details (including, presumably, either his cover or his real name) on one of those same guys, someone he was particularly angry at, from jail, including the intriguing hint that he had been exposed in the Ashley Madison hack.

 

At trial, Schulte’s lawyer explained that the leaking he attempted or threatened from jail reflected the anger built up over almost a year of incarceration, but there’s at least some reason to believe that the initial Vault 7 release intentionally exposed the identities of CIA employees whom Schulte had personal gripes with, or at the very least he hoped would be blamed other than him.

Then there’s the damage done to ongoing operations. At trial, one after another CIA witness described the damage the Vault 7 leak had done. While the testimony was typically vague, it was also more stark in terms of scale than what you generally find in CIA trials.

After describing the leak the “equivalent of a digital Pearl Harbor,” for example, Sean Roche, who was the Deputy Director for Digital Innovation at the time of the leak, testified how on the day of the first release, the CIA had to shut down “the vast, vast majority” of operations that used the CIA tools (at a time, of course, when the CIA was actively trying to understand how Russia had attacked the US the prior year), and then CIA had to reach out to those affected.

It was the equivalent of a digital Pearl Harbor.

Q. What do you mean by that?

A. Our capabilities were revealed, and hence, we were not able to operate and our — the capabilities we had been developing for years that were now described in public were decimated. Our operations were immediately at risk, and we began terminating operations; that is, operations that were enabled with tools that were now described and out there and capabilities that were described, information about operations where we’re providing streams of information. It immediately undermined the relationships we had with other parts of the government as well as with vital foreign partners, who had often put themselves at risk to assist the agency. And it put our officers and our facilities, both domestically and overseas, at risk.

Q. Just staying at a very general level, what steps did you take in the immediate aftermath of those disclosures to address those concerns?

A. A task force was formed. Because operations were involved we had to get a team together that did nothing but focus on three things, in this priority order. In an emergency, and that’s what we had, it was operate, navigate, communicate, in that order. So the first job was to assess the risk posture for all of these operations across the world and figure out how to mitigate that risk, and most often, the vast, vast majority we had to back out of those operations, shut them down and create a situation where the agency’s activities would not be revealed, because we are a clandestine agency.

The next part of that was to navigate across all the people affected. It was not just the CIA. There were equities for other government agencies. There were, of course, equities at places and bases across the world, where we had relationships with foreign partners. People heeded immediately, were calling and asking what do I do, what do I say?

And the third part of that was to communicate, which was — in the course of looking at this as a what systemic issues led to the ability to have our information out there — was to document that and write a report that would serve as a lessons learned with the idea of preventing it from ever happening again. [my emphasis]

Notably, given that Assange could be vulnerable to Official Secrets Act charges in the UK if this leak affected any British intelligence officers or assets, Roche mentioned “foreign partners” twice in just this short passage. You don’t get very far down the list of CIA’s foreign partners before you’ve damaged MI6 assets.

Of course, shutting down ongoing operations would not have been enough to protect CIA’s assets. It took just 40 days for Symantec and Kaspersky to publicly identify the tools described in the Vault 7 releases as those found targeting their clients. If the CIA (or its foreign partners) had used human assets to introduce malware into target computers, as a number of these tools required, then those assets might be easily identifiable to the organizations affected.

Part of that same leak Schulte attempted from jail explains how this might work. He described how a tool from a particular vendor (which he would have named) was actually “Bartender,” by name presumably a watering hole attack, which had been released in Vault 7.

Had he succeeded in tweeting this out, Schulte would have identified either a cover organization or one in which CIA had recruited assets which was loading malware onto target computers while also loading some kind of vendor software.

I’m not defending CIA’s use of such assets to provide a side-helping of malware when targeted organizations install real software, though all major state-actors do this. But what Schulte (without any known active involvement of WikiLeaks, though he did continue to communicate with WikiLeaks, at least indirectly, while in jail) was allegedly attempting to do was burn either a cover organization or CIA assets, who would have been immediate targets if not exfiltrated. And it provides a good example of what could have happened over and over again on March 7, 2017, when these files were first released.

But there’s one other, possibly even more significant risk.

WikiLeaks has, in the past, preferentially withheld or shared files with Russia and other countries. Most obviously, at least one file hacked as part of the Syria Files which was damning to Russia never got published, and Emma Best claimed recently there were far more. The risk that something like that would have happened in this case is quite real. That’s because the files were leaked at a time when WikiLeaks was actively involved in another Russian operation. There was a ten month delay between the time the files were allegedly shared (in early May 2016) and the time WikiLeaks published them on March 7, 2017. The government has never made any public claim about how they got shared with WikiLeaks. Details of contacts between Guccifer 2.0 and WikiLeaks demonstrate that it would have been impossible to send the volume of data involved in this hack directly to WikiLeaks’ public facing submission system in the time which Schulte did so, and several people familiar with the submission system at the time of that hack have suggested it served more as cover than a functional system. That suggests that Schulte either would have had to have prior contact with WikiLeaks to arrange an alternate upload process, or shared them with WikiLeaks via some third party (notably, Schulte bragged in jail that compressing data to do this efficiently was one of his specialties at CIA).

At trial, even though the government in no way focused on this evidence themselves, there was (inconsistent) evidence that Schulte planned to involve Russia in his efforts to take revenge on the CIA. I’ve heard a related allegation independently.

Remember, too, that WikiLeaks has never published the vast majority of the code for these tools, even though Schulte did leak it, which would make it still easier to identify anyone who had used these tools.

So imagine what might have happened had Russia gotten advance notice (either via WikiLeaks, a WikiLeaks associate, or Schulte himself) of these tools? Russia would have had months — starting well before US intelligence had begun to understand the full extent of the election year operation — to identify any of the CIA tools used against it. To be clear, what follows is speculative (though I’m providing it, in part, because I’m trying to summarize the Vault 7 information so people who are experts on other parts of the Russian treason case can test the theory). But if it had, the aftermath might have looked something like Russia’s prosecution of several FSB officers for treason starting in December 2016. And the response — if CIA recognized that its assets had already been compromised by the Vault 7 release — might look something like the Yahoo indictment charging one of the same FSB officers rolled out, with great fanfare, on March 15, just over a week after the Vault 7 release (DOJ obtained the indictment on February 28, after the CIA knew that WikiLeaks had the release coming and months after the treason arrest, but a week before the actual release). That is, Russia might move to prosecute months before the CIA got specific notice, using the years-old complaints of Pavel Vrublevsky to hide the real reason for the prosecution, and the US might move to disclaim any tie to the FSB officers by criminally prosecuting them and identifying many of the foreign targets they had used Yahoo infrastructure to spy on. Speaking just hypothetically, then, that’s the kind of damage we’d expect if any country — and Russia has been raised here explicitly — got advance access to the CIA tools before the CIA did its damage mitigation starting on March 7, 2017.

This scenario (again, it is speculative at this point) is Spy versus Spy stuff, the kind of thing that state intelligence agencies pull off against each other all the time. But it’s not journalism.

And even the stuff that would have happened after the public release of the CIA files would not just have exposed CIA collection points, but also, probably, some of the human beings who activated those collection points.

WikiLeaks would have you believe that nothing that happened after 2013 could change DOJ’s understanding of those earlier exposures of US (and British) assets.

But the very same Mike Pompeo speech that they’ve all been citing explained precisely what changed.

The Other Things the Press Missed by Ignoring the Details Revealed in the Joshua Schulte Prosecution

The WaPo got a copy of the WikiLeaks Task Force report introduced as evidence in the Joshua Schulte from Ron Wyden’s office and so, four months after it was first made public, is declaring the scathing report “news”. (Note, WaPo does not reveal that InnerCity Press made this report public months ago after fighting for its release.)

If the report is news it’s a testament to all the news from the trial that didn’t get reported

The report is scathing. But it describes what any news outlet that covered the trial closely would have reported in real time (as well as the evidence that one after another Schulte denial had been contradicted by evidence submitted at trial), and as such is a confession that besides some passing coverage, few national security journalists did cover this trial and all its alarming disclosures.

The trial showed that Schulte tried to make sure 1TB of data got transferred properly in early May 2017 and then wiped two TB disk drives; this report from early in the investigation assesses that Schulte stole “at least 180 gigabytes to as much as 34 terabytes of information,” something CIA later got more certainty about. The government provided evidence that Schulte inserted outside CDs and thumb drives into his CIA workstation, made a copy of a months-old backup file, and set an Admin password for the files he is accused of stealing, which is why the report focuses so closely on the findings that, “users shared systems administrator-level passwords, there were no effective removable media controls, and historical data was available to users indefinitely.”

The report was published on October 17, 2017, weeks before WikiLeaks published the source code for Hive on November 9, 2017, making this claim (though not necessarily the assessment that Schulte didn’t get the “Gold File”) out of date:

To date, WikiLeaks has released user and training guides and limited source code from two parts of DevLAN: Stash, a source code repository, and Confluence, a collaboration and communication platform. All of the documents reveal, to varying degrees, CIA’s tradecraft in cyber operations.

The trial showed that everyone from Schulte’s colleagues to then-CIA Executive Director Meroe Park had concerns about Schulte’s reliability, but none put him on leave or successfully cut off his access to the vulnerable systems, which makes this passage seem like a breathtaking understatement.

We failed to recognize or act in a coordinated fashion on warning signs that a person or persons with access to CIA classified information posed an unacceptable risk to national security.

The trial also showed that the CIA waited almost two years after this report to put “Michael,” Schulte’s CIA buddy who testified to seeing him stealing files in real time, on paid leave, making it clear they didn’t address this issue even though it appeared in the report.

The report also doesn’t include unredacted descriptions of how the leak led all of CIA’s hack-based spying to grind to a halt, such as that offered by Sean Roche, who had been Deputy Director of the Directorate for Digital Innovation.

Our capabilities were revealed, and hence, we were not able to operate and our — the capabilities we had been developing for years that were now described in public were decimated. Our operations were immediately at risk, and we began terminating operations; that is, operations that were enabled with tools that were now described and out there and capabilities that were described, information about operations where we’re providing streams of information. It immediately undermined the relationships we had with other parts of the government as well as with vital foreign partners, who had often put themselves at risk to assist the agency. And it put our officers and our facilities, both domestically and overseas, at risk.

[snip]

Because operations were involved we had to get a team together that did nothing but focus on three things, in this priority order. In an emergency, and that’s what we had, it was operate, navigate, communicate, in that order. So the first job was to assess the risk posture for all of these operations across the world and figure out how to mitigate that risk, and most often, the vast, vast majority we had to back out of those operations, shut them down and create a situation where the agency’s activities would not be revealed, because we are a clandestine agency.

Nor does the October 2017 report include details about the exploits — such as that these tools were USB drives that NOCs and/or assets would stick into target computer systems, making it likely the leak endangered people who had used the tools — that provide some idea of the kinds of damage the leak did.

Schulte claims the “classified” information on his server consisted of Snowden documents

Meanwhile, there have been several updates in the government’s attempt to retry Schulte.

First, on May 21, the court docketed a hand-written letter from Schulte to Judge Paul Crotty, dated April 12. In it, he claimed He had no counsel,” which is confusing because he has appeared in court subsequent to the letter and its posting with the same trial team (though in a recent filing, his lawyers said Steve Bellovin may not be available to serve as expert in his retrial). Based on his claim to have no lawyers, he asked for access to a bunch of things withheld in discovery, a number of which are things his lawyers had tried but failed to obtain already. That includes his own server, which (according to Schulte, who has proven utterly unreliable) the government withheld because it held “classified” information consisting of the publicly released Snowden files.

The claim is interesting in any case. If Schulte viewed the files while still at CIA, it would be a violation of the government’s ridiculous claims that clearance holders could not view those files without violating their clearance. It’s also interesting given Schulte’s claims, to colleagues, that Snowden should be executed, even while saying elsewhere that Snowden didn’t harm anyone.

The government floated — and then did not fully develop (possibly as part of an agreement to avoid a subpoena to Mike Pompeo) a theory about Schulte’s ties to other leaks, including Snowden’s. That makes the fact they’re still sitting on these files far more interesting. (Schulte used the reports about the hacking of Angela Merkel in his defense.)

DOJ’s superseding indictment tries to make the retrial easier to win

Then there are the circumstances surrounding a third superseding indictment obtained against Schulte on June 8 (which the WaPo notes but doesn’t explain). As the government had explained, they got the indictment to make the specific allegations more clear for the jury than the second indictment, which was released before CIA had declassified the things used at trial.

These counts are based on the same conduct that was at issue during the February trial, namely, the defendant’s theft and transmission of the Backup Files, his destruction of log files and other forensic data on DEVLAN in the course of committing that theft, his obstruction of the investigation into the leak of the Backup Files, and his transmission and attempted transmission of national defense information while detained at the MCC. The modifications in the Proposed Indictment, however, are intended to make clear what conduct is covered in the specific counts. Thus, the Proposed Indictment (i) contains two separate § 793(e) counts related to (1) the defendant’s transmission of writings containing national defense information from the MCC and (2) the defendant’s attempted transmission of writings containing national defense information from the MCC, whereas the S2 Indictment grouped that conduct together in a single count; (ii) clarifies that all the § 793(e) counts, pertaining both to the transmission of the Backup Files and the defendant’s conduct in the MCC, charge the transmission of documents and writings, which does not require proof that the defendant had reason to believe the information therein could be used to harm the United States; (iii) contains two separate § 1030(a)(5)(A) counts specifying that the charged harmful computer commands at issue are (1) the defendant’s manipulation of the Confluence virtual server and (2) the defendant’s log deletions, whereas the S2 Indictment grouped that conduct together in a single count; and (iv) lists the false statements underlying the obstruction charge, which had previously been identified for the defendant in a bill of particulars, whereas the S2 Indictment did not do so.

Here’s a table that shows the difference between the second superseding indictment and the new one.

The government had dropped Count Two during the trial to make it clear that Schulte was exceeding his access when he stole the files he allegedly sent to WikiLeaks. And Schulte had challenged the 641 charge on legal grounds, which explains the dropped charges (marked in black). Jury questions had made it clear that jurors were fighting over what Schulte leaked and tried to leak from jail, and couldn’t agree upon whether Schulte’s various manipulations of the backup servers amounted to a crime. By turning each into two charges, the government not only tells the jury precisely what to look for, but might even get prosecutors to focus on describing why the forensics prove the crime rather than describing the CIA’s personnel disputes. In other words, this superseding indictment is an effort to make it more likely Schulte will be found guilty for the actions described at trial.

Meanwhile, whereas elsewhere the new indictment aims to make things more explicit for the jury, the new one does not mention two things that were laid out in the bill of particulars laying out his false statements and obstruction in the second indictment: any reference to the Brutal Kangaroo tool that Schulte was working on at home and then may have brought back into work, and a discussion of a proffer session that took place on November 16, 2017 where Schulte falsely claimed to have been approached by an unknown male on the way to a court appearance. The government dropped the latter before Schulte’s trial. As to the former, it’s unclear whether the government has decided Brutal Kangaroo (which might have been used to help steal the files or unknown follow-up ones) is too sensitive to explain, or whether they want to make the obstruction charges more generalized.

Now that a bunch of journalists have effectively confessed they missed all this in real time, maybe they’ll finally get around to explaining why the government is having to revamp their charges to try they guy the CIA claims burned their hacking ability to the ground, which seems as newsworthy as this out-of-date, already published report.

Schulte doesn’t want a suburban jury

Nothing the government has done, however, will prevent jury nullification, which appears to have been a key factor in the first trial. Given the notes from the jury, at least two jurors seemed to be unwilling consider fairly clear evidence, and one of them hid that she had outside knowledge (comments she made publicly after she was dismissed suggested she believed Schulte’s claims that the government was using child porn to frame him for this leak).

Ultimately, prosecutors are going to have to explain to a NY jury why they should care that the CIA department in charge of hacking everyone else got hacked itself, all while Schulte’s lawyers make claims about what CIA does when it hacks that the CIA is not about to rebut publicly.

Which may explain why Schulte is preparing to challenge the circumstances of the most recent indictment. The grand jury on the most recent indictment is a White Plains one, not a Manhattan one.

The unusual circumstances of the S3 indictment—the grand jury was sitting in White Plains as opposed to Manhattan, and most members of the public in the Southern District of New York were still under a stay-at-home order—may have compromised the defendant’s right to a grand jury selected from a fair cross-section of the community. Accordingly, through this letter-motion and the accompanying declaration of statistician Jeffrey Martin, Mr. Schulte respectfully requests access to the records and papers used in connection with the constitution of the Master and Qualified Jury Wheels in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, pursuant to the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the United States Constitution and the Jury Selection and Service Act (“JSSA”), 28 U.S.C. § 1867(a) and (f).

While this motion to get records of how this jury was chosen may not lead to a challenge, ultimately, he seems prepared to argue that the pandemic prevented him from being tried by a jury of his peers. And that’s happening all while he’s refusing (as is his right) to toll Speedy Trial rights during the pandemic. (Plus, I’m not sure prosecutors are being very attentive to excluding the time that the defense itself has asked for.)

The press is only now waking up to what the trial (and the prior court filings) has shown. Perhaps now that they’ve tuned in they’ll bother to explain why the guy who allegedly burned the CIA to the ground may well get off on all his Espionage and hacking related charges?

It’s Easy to [Claim to] Attribute Hacks to CIA after a One Month Trial on CIA’s Tools

Yesterday, closing arguments and charging instructions in the Joshua Schulte trial were presented to the jury. As I’ve noted, I think the evidence against Schulte is quite compelling, but several things have weakened the government’s case. The transcripts for the closing arguments (which will come out tonight) may provide a better sense of how strong the case is. Otherwise, we wait on the jury.

But at least one Chinese InfoSec company is not waiting. One firm just released a report claiming to ID a number of CIA’s hacking campaigns against Chinese targets, which it dubs APT-C-39. It explicitly relies on the trial record (though not the most interesting details of it, and some of the details revealed at trial seem to conflict with this report).

Proficient in the design and development of cyber weapons and possessing knowledge of intelligence operations, Joshua became one of the core backbones of the CIA’s many important hacking tools, including a key cyber weapon – Vault 7.

In 2016, Joshua took advantage of his admin privilege of the core machine room and a preset backdoor to steal the classified documents of Vault 7 and disclosed to WikiLeaks, which was published on Wikileaks website in 2017.

In 2018, Joshua was arrested and prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice for the Vault 7 leaks. On February 4, 2020, at a public hearing in the federal court, the federal prosecutor alleged that Joshua, as the core developer and the person in charge of the highest administrator authority of its internal arsenal, has committed “the single biggest leak of classified national defense information in the history of CIA”by disclosing the agency’s secret hacking tools to WikiLeaks.

This piece appears to be entirely reversed engineered from the leaked files and the trial record, not actual InfoSec analysis. For example, it treats “Vault 7” as CIA’s code name, not some dumb label WikiLeaks assigned to it. It claims to track campaigns from September 2008 through June 2019; yet the trial record says CIA stopped all use of tools developed before Schulte left.

It makes much of compilation time. It is true that most of the work on these tools happen in VA and most of the developers work regular hours. However, there are two remote offices, so tools targeting China could easily be customized in Asian timezones.

The compilation time of malware is a common method and statistics in the research of APT group attribution. Through the study of the compilation time of malware, we can find out the developer’s work schedule, so as to know the approximate time zone of his location.

The following table is the schedule of compilation activities of APT-C-39 (the time is based on the East 8 time zone). It can be seen that the organization’s activities are close to the schedule in Eastern U.S. time zone, which is in line with the CIA’s location. (Virginia, U.S. Eastern Time).

It also admits that it is speculating about a key point — how CIA would use all this.

We speculate that in the past eleven years of infiltration attacks, CIA may have already grasped the most classified business information of China, even of many other countries in the world. It does not even rule out the possibility that now CIA is able to track down the real-time global flight status, passenger information, trade freight and other related information. If the guess is true, what unexpected things will CIA do if it has such confidential and important information? Get important figures‘ travel itinerary, and then pose political threats, or military suppression?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure the Chinese state is watching the trial closely for clues on CIA’s now defunct hacking tools, as well as organizational clues to how it used to be developed (though given China’s extensive success spying on the US, doubt they’ve learned anything even remotely new from this trial). But this report, at least, looks to be a opportunistic effort to make the most of the spectacle of the US prosecuting one of its own hackers.

Update: This, from last year, is a more credible report based on Vault 7 leaks. (h/t Catalin Cimpanu)

With One Dropped Charge and a Major Screw-up, Government in Remarkably Weak Position against Joshua Schulte

The outcome of the Joshua Schulte trial will be unresolved until closing arguments Monday and deliberation next week.

While parts of the case are circumstantial — because Schulte allegedly used TAILS, there’s no smoking gun showing him sharing stolen files with WikiLeaks — in my opinion the case against him is quite strong, particularly given really damning details from his prison notebooks talking about leaking to WikiLeaks.

But the government, having rested and rebutted the scant defense case, is in remarkably weak position right now.

That’s true, first of all, because the government has spent over two weeks trying to recover from an own goal, prosecutors’ failure to provide Schulte with advance notice that one of his closest buddies at the CIA, Michael, got put on paid leave last August because the CIA no longer trusts the developer because of his closeness to and lack of candor about Schulte. In reality, Michael should have been a key witness for prosecutors, providing proof that Schulte was at his computer and logged in when the reversion and copy of the files likely shared with WikiLeaks was accomplished. But because prosecutors didn’t fully disclose the report in real time, Schulte has flipped that on its head. The trial ended with the guy who wrote that report testifying on rebuttal about how this is still all about Schulte — effectively providing emphasis that the CIA maintains that Schulte is the culprit — but it interrupted the narrative arch of the government case.

Add that to the pace of the trial, which feels like a nasty employment dispute to which the massive breach of the CIA’s hacking tools became just a side-dispute. That’s often true of CIA trials — it certainly was for Jeffrey Sterling. But the long parade of CIA witnesses — Schulte’s buddy, two other colleagues, his boss, his boss’s boss, his boss’s boss’s boss, her boss, and then yet another boss, plus a CIA SysAdmin and a security guy — all describing a series of disputes escalating from a nerf gun fight to WikiLeaks burning the CIA’s hacking capabilities to the ground refocused the trial onto whether Schulte’s complaints had merit and not on what the forensic evidence showed.

And Sabrina Shroff did a superb job of defending not the forensic case (indeed, defense expert Steve Bellovin did not take the stand to float any of the alternate theories that Schulte has been offering for two years, and in so doing will leave Shroff to claim Michael could have accessed the backup without prosecutors having gotten him to admit that wouldn’t have worked), but instead arguing that her client was maligned by the entire CIA. The boss, the boss’s boss, the boss’s boss’s boss, the boss’s boss’s boss’s boss, and then the senior-most boss are all lined up against Schulte for being an asshole. She even defused utterly damning notes about working with Russia (which I’ll return to). From the transcripts, it seemed like Shroff rattled a good many government witnesses, too, and a number of them (one of the FBI agents and the classification expert, especially) seemed to come off as unresponsive as a result.

And on a potentially significant point, FBI Agent Evan James Schlessinger’s unresponsiveness deprived the government of an opportunity to rebut something the defense will do in its close. The defense entered a stipulation that Schulte had been thrown into the SHU on October 1, 2018, before the Bureau of Prisons found the phone he allegedly used to leak classified information to Shane Harris. The phone continued to be used, probably by Schulte’s roommate Omar Amanat, for whom Schulte was writing an expert report. Somebody–again, probably Amanat–sent a Signal text to Harris on October 2, saying “Hi Shane, the anon email is down since Sunday evening Can you resend your questions to [email protected] thanks.” That text seems to be proof that no one besides Schulte had the password to the other email account, [email protected], but the FBI Agent didn’t take this point head on when he could have.

Two weeks ago, one juror apparently complained about another, suggesting she was already making up her mind. Whatever the complaint, the defense seemed to welcome it, which given the focus on the employment dispute may mean the juror sees that dispute as contested.

Finally, the government dropped one of its charges today, eliminating the Illegal Transmission of Lawfully Possessed National Defense Information (Count Two in the superseding indictment). The government dropped it to avoid confusing the jury about whether Schulte had legal access to the files that he stole. But the discussion about it leads me to think the defense could argue that Schulte had legal access to some of the files he sent to WikiLeaks, thereby getting off on that charge. If the jury convicts, that dropped charge won’t much matter in the grand scheme of things. And even an acquittal would not spring Schulte from jail, because he still faces child porn charges.

Still, I have to applaud the job that Shroff and Schulte’s other attorneys did, because she did a remarkable job with one of the most nightmarish clients. She certainly put a lot out there that might lead jurors to find there is a reasonable doubt about this.

And much of that comes from the government being dickish.

The State of Play: Joshua Schulte and Julian Assange

Last year, it looked like the Joshua Schulte trial, rescheduled in the fall to start January 13, would be done before the extradition hearing for Julian Assange started. Two things changed since then: Schulte got a delay until February 3, and then last month, Assange convinced Judge Vanessa Baraitser to split his extradition hearing into two, the first part lasting a week starting Monday, and then resuming on May 18 for three more weeks.

As a result, both men are in court during the same week, intersecting in interesting ways.

Thus far, Assange’s argument is threefold:

  1. His prosecution is hopelessly political, merely retaliation by the hated President that Assange helped elect, Donald Trump
  2. The evidence in the case against Assange is so weak as to be abusive
  3. A person cannot be extradited for political crimes like the Espionage Act

The first argument is a load of horseshit covering up the fact that the timing of the treatment of WikiLeaks as a non-state hostile intelligence service, the increased surveillance of Assange, and the initial December 21, 2017 charge all stem from WikiLeaks’ burning the CIA by publishing all its hacking tools. It’s horseshit, but it garners a lot of enthusiasm among WikiLeaks supporters who like to conveniently forget that, whatever Assange’s motivations were in 2010 (when he engaged in the acts he is charged with), he nevertheless helped Russia help Trump get elected. That said, even though the claims about what changed in 2017 are horseshit, it doesn’t change that the existing charges against Assange pose a real danger to journalism.

The second argument is far stronger. For each of the theories of prosecution under which Assange is charged — attempting to help Chelsea Manning crack a password, soliciting certain files via WikiLeaks’ wish list, and publishing a bunch of files in which the names of US and British sources were later revealed — Assange has at least a credible defense. Assange never succeeded, and could not have succeeded, in cracking that password. Manning didn’t leak the precise files that WikiLeaks had on its wish list (though did leak some of the same sets). WikiLeaks originally went to some effort to redact the names of sources, only to have a Guardian journalist release the password revealing them. Mind you, the extradition hearing is not the trial itself, so for these defenses to be relevant, WikiLeaks has to prove that the case against Assange is abusively weak.

The third argument, which is being argued today, is a more interesting legal question. Assange claims that the existing Anglo-US extradition treaty, passed in 2003, still prohibits extradition for political offenses like theEspionage Act. The US argues that Assange’s extradition is governed by the Extradition Act of 2003, which did not include such a bar (and also disagrees that these are political crimes). The lawyers are even arguing about the Magna Carta! Judge Vanessa Baraitser seems inclined to side with the US on this point, but the question will surely be appealed. Mind you, one of the charges against Assange, CFAA, is in no way a political offense, and the UK has not barred its own citizens, much less foreign citizens hanging out in foreign embassies, from being extradited on the charge (though several hackers, most recently Lauri Love, have challenged their extradition to the US for CFAA on other grounds).

Yesterday, Assange’s defense spent a good deal of time making the second argument. The US didn’t respond. Rather, it said it would deal with those issues in the May hearing.

Meanwhile, the Schulte trial is wrapping up, with Schulte doing little to mount a defense, but instead preparing an appeal. Yesterday, Schulte asked that an instruction on the defendant not testifying be added to the jury instructions (normally, these are included from the start, but Schulte has been claiming he would testify all this time). Today, Schulte told the court that Steve Bellovin won’t testify because he never got access to all the data Judge Paul Crotty ruled he couldn’t have access to (not mentioning, however, that the restrictions stemmed from Crotty’s own CIPA judgment).

I’m still unclear on the status of the witness, Michael. Schulte is trying to submit his CIA investigative report in lieu of finishing cross-examination (which is where things had left off). But it still seems possible that Crotty would require his testimony to be resumed, giving the government another opportunity to redirect his testimony. This is all likely happening today, but given that there’s so little coverage of the trial, we won’t know until Thursday.

Before all this happened, however, the jailhouse informant provided very damning testimony against Schulte, not only describing how Schulte obtained a phone (swapping an iPhone for a Samsung that he could load all the apps he wanted on it), but also claiming that Schulte said, “Russia had to help him with what he was doing,” launching an information war.” I had learned of similar allegations of ties or willingness to forge them with Russia via several sources in the past. And Schulte’s own jailroom notebooks include hints of the same, such as a bullet point describing how Russia could help the US “destroy itself.”

And his final plan — which the informant alerted his handlers to just before Schulte launched it — included some “Russia pieces.”

As part of the same plan to get fellow SysAdmins to leak all their secrets to WikiLeaks, then, Joshua Schulte was also hoping to encourage Russia to attack the US.

I’ve long said the Vault 7 case, if it were ever added to Julian Assange’s charges (including an extortion charge, which would also not be a political crime), would be far more damning and defensible than the ones currently charged. Filings from November suggested that the government had come to think of Schulte’s leaks to WikiLeaks as the last overt act in an ongoing conspiracy against the United States.

And by 2018, Schulte had come to see leaking to WikiLeaks as part of the same plan encouraging Russian attacks on the US, precisely the allegation WikiLeaks has spent years trying to deny, especially in the wake of Assange’s cooperation in Russia’s election year operation.

It’s not clear whether the US will add any evidence to the original 2010 charges against Assange before May (though Alexa O’Brien has pointed to where additional evidence might be), but the statement they’re waiting until then to rebut the solid defense that WikiLeaks is now offering suggests they might. That might reflect a hope that more coercion against Chelsea Manning will produce that additional evidence (she has renewed her bid to be released, arguing that such coercion has obviously failed). Or it might suggest they’ve got plans to lay out a broader conspiracy if and when Schulte is convicted.

Assange’s lawyers pushed for the delay to May in the first place. If the US government uses the extra time to add charges related to Vault 7, though, the delay may make a significant difference in the posture of the case.

Kim DotCom Posts Evidence Trump’s “Best Friend (Name Redacted)” in Pardon Discussions

Last night, Kim DotCom tried to take credit for brokering the meeting at which Dana Rohrabacher tried to pardon a pardon deal whereby Julian Assange would claim Seth Rich was his source for the DNC emails and Trump would pay him off with a pardon. He posted a bunch of texts with “Trumps best friend (name redacted)” where he pushed his  interlocutor to get Trump to take a public step in favor of the deal.

Only, the name of Trump’s “best friend (name redacted)” was not actually redacted.

While I have no doubt DotCom is overselling his own role in this, it does appear he was talking directly to Sean Hannity about it.

Which would suggest a real continuity between whatever happened when Hannity met Assange in January 2017, not long after Roger Stone reached out to Margaret Kunstler to discuss a pardon, and what happened in August 2017, when Dana Rohrabacher resumed discussion of the pardon. That suggests pardon discussions were not — as WikiLeaks is now falsely portraying — a one-time bid that got rejected, leading to Assange’s prosecution, but rather continued from late December 2016 until at least August 2017, through the time when Mike Pompeo labeled WikiLeaks a non-state hostile intelligence agency.

CIA Put Joshua Schulte’s Buddy on Administrative Leave Last August

Update, 2/21/20: This post has been updated reflecting the DOJ response to Schulte’s bid for a mistrial based on this dispute. The response makes quite clear that the administrative leave pertains only to concerns about Michael’s candor regarding Schulte’s behavior.

Neither the Government nor the CIA believes anyone else was involved, and the defendant’s claims otherwise are based on a distorted reading of the CIA memorandum placing Michael on administrative leave (the “CIA Memorandum”). The CIA Memorandum explicitly states that Michael was placed on leave because of concerns he was not providing information about the defendant (not that he is a suspect in the theft); the Government has confirmed with the author of that memorandum that the memorandum was not intended to suggest that it was Michael rather than the defendant who stole the Vault 7 Information; and, in any event, the defendant has had all of the relevant information underlying the CIA Memorandum for months in advance of trial.

There was some drama at the end of last week’s testimony in the trial of accused Vault 7 leaker, Joshua Schulte. Schulte’s lawyers forced the government to admit that Schulte’s buddy, testifying under the name, “Michael,” is on paid leave from the CIA for lack of candor.

It turns out “Michael” got put on paid leave in August 2019, shortly after his seventh interview as part of the investigation (his interview dates, based DOJ’s response off Shroff’s cross-examination, were March 16, 2017, June 1, 2017, June 2, 2017, June 6, 2017, August 30, 2017, March 8, 2018, August 16, 2019, and January 13, 2020).

While prosecutors provided Schulte the underlying interview reports (the last one wasn’t even a 302 because prosecutors led the interview, with just one FBI agent present, possibly as part of pre-trial prep), they withheld documents explaining the personnel change until providing part of the documentation the night before Michael’s testimony starting on February 12. Technically, that late notice probably complied with Jencks, but once Judge Paul Crotty realized what documentation had been shared with whom, he granted the defense request for a continuance of Michael’s testimony so they could better understand the implications. Withholding the information was a dickish move on the part of the prosecutors.

The question is, why prosecutors did this, why they withheld information that might be deemed key to a fair trial.

I don’t think defense counsel Sabrina Shroff’s seeming take — that the government tried to hide Michael’s personnel status to hide that they were (purportedly) coercing him to get his story “to morph a little,” to testify in the way he had on threat of false statements charges and certain firing from the CIA — makes sense. That’s because, on the two key issues he testified about, Michael testified in roughly the same way in court as he did in FBI interviews in the wake of the Vault 7 disclosure.

On the stand under direct examination, Michael explained how he told his and Schulte’s colleague, Jeremy Weber, to take away Schulte’s access because he feared Schulte would respond to losing access to his own projects by restoring that access, which would lead to significant trouble.

Q. Did you ever speak with Mr. Weber about the defendant’s anger?

A. Yes.

Q. What did you talk about?

A. We didn’t talk about his anger per se. But, I told Jeremy that he should remove all of Josh’s admin accesses.

Q. Why did you ask Mr. Weber to do that?

A. I felt like Jeremy was kind of, like, setting him up. I knew that Josh was mad at Jeremy, and that he was putting him in a position where Josh had the ability or the access to change permissions on the project in question. And that he would do that because he didn’t respect Jeremy’s authority.

As Shroff elicited on cross-examination, Michael told the FBI something very similar on August 30, 2017.

Q. And it is in this meeting, if you remember, that you told the FBI that, in your opinion, Mr. Weber was setting Mr. Schulte up. Do you remember that?

A. I remember feeling that way.

Q. Okay. By that you mean that you thought Mr. Weber was setting Mr. Schulte up to fail at his job at the CIA, right?

A. I thought he was — baiting him into using his accesses, for a lack of a better word.

[snip]

A. Yeah, I thought he was setting — he was creating circumstances where he knew that Josh had access to change permissions on the server, Josh was an admin. He was telling Josh you cannot do this. But Josh technically could do that, right, he had the technical capability to do that. So, Josh was going to do that.

Q. Okay. You told Mr. Weber your concern?

A. Yes.

Q. And Mr. Weber said butt out, correct?

A. Yes, in summary. Mr. Weber said butt out.

Likewise, last week the government got Michael to explain how, on April 20, 2016 (the day the government alleges Schulte stole the Vault 7 files) Schulte first invited Michael to work out at the gym as they normally would, but then didn’t respond for an hour, at which point Michael witnessed — and took a screen cap of — Schulte deleting log files, which means Schulte’s buddy documented in real time as his buddy stole the files.

Q. It is a little difficult, so let’s blow up the left side of the screen. Do you recognize what we’re looking at?

A. Yes.

Q. How do you recognize it?

A. It is a screenshot I took.

Q. What is it a screenshot of?

A. It a screenshot of, in the bottom you can see a VM being reverted and then a snapshot removed.

Q. It is a screenshot of a computer screen?

A. Yes, of my computer screen.

Q. What date and time did you take this screenshot?

A. The date was April 20, and time was 6:56 p.m.

Q. What year was that?

A. 2016.

Michael explained his past testimony to the FBI to Shroff using much the same story (though she used a different screen cap that may be of import).

Q. Uh-huh.

A. I believe I was trying to dig into what the screenshot meant. I was unsure. You know, I took the screenshot because I was concerned, and then I tried to validate those concerns by determining did a person do these reverts, or was this a system action? This is me trying to dig into that. I have debug view open to see if there was any debug messages about reverting the VMs or something. That could have been there already. I don’t know. But specifically this command prompt here that you see, this black-and-white text, the command prompt, I was looking at IP addresses.

Q. And did you do that on the same day, or you did this later?

[snip]

Q. And you don’t see anything before the start time of 6:55?

A. Yeah. I don’t see anything before 6:55 — or I see 6:51.

Q. Right, but you’re saying that even though your vSphere was running, you didn’t see any April 16 snapshot?

A. Yeah. I don’t see an April 16 snapshot.

On redirect prosecutors will have Michael make it clear that the reason he didn’t see an April 16 snapshot is because it had been deleted, making this a damning admission, not a helpful one.

So knowing that the CIA has concerns that Michael isn’t telling the truth about all this doesn’t help Shroff rebut the most damning details of Michael’s testimony: that one of Schulte’s closest friends at CIA tried to intervene to prevent Schulte from doing something stupid before it happened, and the same friend happened to get online and capture proof of it happening in real time.

Nor does it help her rebut another damning detail from Michael’s testimony, a description of how a rubber band fight between him and Schulte led to Michael hitting Schulte physically.

Q. Could you just describe generally what happened.

A. Sure. On that day, Josh hit me with a rubber band, I hit him back with a rubber band. This went back and forth until late at night. I hit him with a rubber band and then ran away before he could hit me back. He trashed my desk. I trashed his desk. And then I was backed up against Jeremy’s desk and Josh was looking at me, kind of coming towards me. And something came over me and I just hit him.

This might seem, if you’re the NYT trying to cull the trial record for glimpses of the banality of CIA cubicle life, like an innocuous detail. But it’s not. Schulte’s defense, such as he has offered one so far, is that he had a real gripe with a colleague, Amol, which escalated into both being moved, him losing his SysAdmin access, which led to his retaliation against the CIA. But what Amol did was take Schulte’s Nerf darts away when they landed on his desk and make verbal — but never physical — attacks against Schulte. Yet Schulte obtained a restraining order against Amol, not against Michael, the guy who really had physically hit him. This rubber band fight with Michael, as juvenile as it seems, actually undermines Schulte’s claim that his complaint against Amol made sense.

Meanwhile, Shroff herself seems to have brought out the detail that led to CIA’s personnel action (and which Judge Crotty argued prosecutors had withheld by not sharing the full CIA notice). On direct, Michael told prosecutor Sidhardha Kamaraju that he stopped digging to find out what had happened because he remembered that he was using a regular user account that — he couldn’t remember — might not have the right permissions to view logs.

Q. Did that seem strange to you that there were no log files there?

A. Yes. At first this was strange to me.

Q. Why did you think it was strange at first?

A. Just because, a system managing this many VMs should have lots of logs.

Q. Did you try to find out why there weren’t any log files there?

A. I did some more digging, yes.

Q. What did you think as a result of your digging?

A. I remembered that this account that I was using was a regular user account, and I couldn’t remember if the regular user accounts had administrative permissions to view logs.

But as Shroff had him explain on cross, Michael told the FBI that Schulte had given him “pseudo creds” to one of his virtual machines. He told them that almost three months before the FBI first asked him about the screen cap showing Schulte delete logs.

Q. No, it’s not correct? What is it then?

A. This is a VM that he would have run on his DevLAN machine.

Q. So it is a virtual machine that he ran on his own DevLAN, correct?

A. Yes.

Q. Okay. So it says “Josh.” Correct?

A. Yes.

Q. Then it says “Michael,” correct?

A. Yes.

Q. And then it says “other,” correct?

A. Yes.

Q. And they asked you about this document, correct?

A. Yes.

Q. And you told them, did you not, that Josh had given you what you turned as a phrase “pseudo creds,” correct?

A. I don’t remember specific wording but, yes. I believe he gave me pseudo accesses to this VM.

[snip]

Q. And then you told them that you probably had root access to the machine to do with it what you wanted, correct?

A. Yes. If I had pseudo creds, then that’s true.

Q. They asked you if you were surprised to find out that you shared a VM with Josh, and you said no, correct?

This is a reference to “sudo” credentials, which is root access. The government response makes it clear that Michael had administrative access, using the “root” password, to the ESXi server, but did not have admin access to the Atlassian suite, which is what Schulte alleged used to steal the documents.

Michael’s “system administrator” privileges were well-documented in the reports of the FBI interviews. Indeed, Michael’s “system administrator privileges” were discussed in at least three different interviews, one of Michael and the other two of Mr. Weber:

  • In a March 22, 2017 interview, Weber stated that “Michael, [the defendant], [Weber], and [Matt] had administrative access to the ESXi server …. A root password was required to directly log into the ESXi server and this password was shared on OSB’s Confluence page that all of OSB had access to.” CLASSIFIED JAS _ 001318 – 001320 ( emphasis added).
  • In a May 26, 2017 interview, Weber stated that he “believed that [Matt] and [Michael] were possibly added as [ESXi] administrators later.” CLASSIFIED JAS 010153 – 010159.
  • In a March 8, 2018 interview, Michael explained the relevant distinction in administrative privileges: “There is a difference between being considered an Atlassian administrator and having the root password for the ESXi server. The root password for the ESXi server was likely needed to create and control VMs, which are frequently used by developers for testing. [Michael] believed he used the ESXi root password to create VMs. The status of being an Atlassian administrator is reflected in the user’s domain credentials. [Michael] is not aware of how to get access to Atlassian as an administrator.” CLASSIFIED JAS _ O I 0514 ( emphasis added).

These reports make clear that Michael never had Atlassian administrator privileges, and thus did not have the ability to access or copy the Altabackups (from which the Vault 7 Information was stolen).

Still, that part of his testimony hasn’t changed. And CIA would have known about all this by August 2017, two years before they put Michael on administrative leave.

And curiously, having had this information for quite some time, Schulte never tried to suggest that Michael could have conducted the theft while using Schulte’s credentials.

Thus far, it looks like the CIA moved Michael to administrative leave not to change his pre-August 2019 testimony — because that hasn’t changed — but out of concern that Michael learned about Schulte’s actions in real time but didn’t tell anyone, not in 2016 when the CIA could have done something about it, nor immediately after the Vault 7 publication. It wasn’t until the FBI discovered the screen cap and asked Michael about it in August 2017 that he told this story.

Q. Is it fair to say, sir, by the time the FBI showed it to you, you had forgotten about the screenshot?

A. Yes.

Q. You had taken it on April 20, 2016, right?

A. Yes.

Michael similarly did not offer up to the FBI that Schulte contacted him after the first Vault 7 publication (presumably in March) until it came up in June 2017.

Q. It was during this meeting that you told them about Mr. Schulte reaching out to you after the leaks had become public; correct? Do you remember that?

A. I remember telling them about him reaching out to me. I don’t remember if it was this specific meeting.

Q. Okay. Take a look at the highlighted portion on page one, okay?

A. Okay.

Q. You told the FBI, did you not, that Mr. Schulte had sounded upset to you that people thought it was he who had done the leaks, correct?

A. Yes. I believe the word was he seemed concerned.

Q. Right. You would be concerned too if somebody accused you of something you didn’t do, correct?

A. Yes.

Q. And you also told them that you essentially blew him off, correct? You didn’t want to engage and talk to him, correct?

A. Yes, I ignored the initial text messages. And then in the phone call, I didn’t want to talk about that subject.

Q. Okay. And at first you didn’t report the fact that Mr. Schulte contacted you, correct?

A. Correct.

Q. And then somehow or the other, the deputy chief of EDG said if somebody’s contacted you, report it. And then you reported it, correct?

A. Correct.

The most likely explanation for CIA’s change in Michael’s personnel status, then (but not the timing), is that Michael did not alert security when he had the opportunity, and then when he discovered that his buddy was the lead suspect for a huge theft of CIA tools, he tried to downplay his knowledge, perhaps hoping to avoid suspicion himself (which, if true, backfired). As Michael said himself in one of his FBI interviews, it sucks when you’re the single guy the prime suspect for a crime has given credentials to his VM, by name.

Q. And then you kind of added that it kind of sucked that your name was on this VM, correct?

A. I don’t remember that.

Q. Take a look at the first paragraph, page two of eight. It sucks. I don’t mean to be rude, but that’s the word it says, “suck,” right?

A. Yes.

Q. That your name was on the virtual machine, correct?

A. Correct.

Q. And that you understood from the FBI that that put you under the microscope, correct?

A. Correct.

So, again, the most likely implication of all this is just that the CIA believes Michael had information about a data breach in real time that he offered unconvincing (and, possibly, technically false) explanations for why he didn’t alert anyone.

But, particularly given the delay in putting him on administrative leave, I wonder whether there’s not something more.

DOJ and CIA clearly suspect Michael is being less than forthcoming about what he witnessed in real time. That doesn’t undermine his value as a witness to having taken the screen shot, but it does raise questions about his trustworthiness to retain clearance at CIA. It does undermine his claims to the FBI, which Shroff portrayed as largely unique among CIA witnesses, that Schulte wasn’t the culprit (which he hasn’t yet explained in the presence of the jury).

That may, however, raise questions about his candor on other answers asked by the FBI, answers that may speak to how Schulte came to steal CIA’s hacking tools in the first place or even whether Michael knew more about it than he knows.

For example, the FBI asked Michael repeatedly about Schulte’s League of Legends habit.

Q. He played a lot of League of Legends or something?

A. Yes.

Q. Some kind of game?

A. Yes, it’s a video game.

Q. A lot of men, people play it; is that right?

A. It has a large user base.

Q. It is some kind of online game where you pretend to have avatars and kill each other online or something like that? Is that right, basically?

A. Yes.

Q. And you played that game, did you not, with Mr. Schulte? A. Yes.

In recent years the government has come to regard gaming communications systems as a means to communicate covertly (which Schulte would have known because his hacking tools targeted terrorists).

They also asked Michael whether Schulte was a “vigilante hacker” by night, and about his Tor usage (which, according to Michael, Schulte didn’t hide).

Q. You remember the FBI asking you if Mr. Schulte was a vigilante hacker by night? Do you remember that phrase they used?

A. I think I do actually, yes.

Q. You told them, no, you didn’t know him to be a vigilante hacker at night?

A. Correct.

Q. You in fact did not know him to be a vigilante hacker at night.

A. Correct. I did not know him to be a vigilante hacker.

This question is particularly relevant given Schulte’s claim, in communicating with a journalist from jail, that he had been involved with Anonymous.

The FBI asked Michael how he came to buy two hard drives for Schulte from Amazon, the same place Schulte bought a SATA adapter they think he used in the theft.

A. I only ever bought him hard drives this one time. But the reason, like, I wouldn’t normally just buy him hard drives, I would have told him to buy it himself. But the reason was there was some deal going on, and so he’s like, if I buy it and then you buy it, we all get the deal and I’ll just pay you back.

Q. Right. It’s normal, right?

A. Yeah.

Q. Yeah. Amazon had a cap on the sale, like everyone could only get two, and he wanted four or something like that?

A. Yes, it was something along those lines.

Of the hard drives the FBI seized from Schulte’s home in March 2017 (PDF 116), the ones he owned the most copies of — the 1TB Western Digital drives — are the ones they suspect were used in the theft because they were overwritten.

The FBI asked about a time when Michael worked over a weekend, when Schulte also happened to be working. Michael first explained he had been working on his performance review, but when he subsequently checked his records, discovered that couldn’t be right. Even though he recognized how unusual it was for him to be working the same weekend as Schulte without knowing Schulte was there, he concluded (like he had about the deleted log files) that it was normal.

Q. They asked you about that weekend because Mr. Schulte also happened to be working that weekend?

A. They mentioned that, yes.

Q. Did you think it was odd that Mr. Schulte was working that weekend or did the FBI think it was odd that Mr. Schulte was working that weekend or both?

A. At first I thought it was odd.

Q. Okay.

A. Just because —

Q. Go ahead.

A. Just because, you know, although it was normal to come in on the weekend, it was less common — rare, I would say, to come in on the weekend. One of us probably would have told each other, you know, we were going to come in on the weekend. But then I looked at my situation, I was like, well, I didn’t tell him I was coming in, so I guess this is normal.

The government may still be trying to figure out precisely when Schulte removed the files on hard drives from CIA — they also asked Michael about that repeatedly — which is why these questions are so important. Among the reasons CIA put him on leave, per the government response, is that he and Schulte left together that night; if Schulte had carried out hard drives that night Michael may have seen them.

The FBI asked about Michael’s role — apparently unplanned — in helping Schulte move to New York.

Q. Then they talked to you about your involvement in helping him move from Virginia to New York, correct?

A. Yes.

Q. They asked you a whole series of questions as to how you came about to help him move, correct?

A. Yes.

Q. And they asked you why you helped him move, correct?

A. I don’t remember specific questions, but I do remember questions about helping him move.

Q. And you explained to them that it was like a coincidence, right? You’d already planned a trip with another friend, he was moving at the same time, he needed help loading up luggage and moving stuff, correct?

A. Yes.

Q. It was not preplanned, right? It just happened, right?

A. Yeah.

Q. You told them that you had already planned to do this with another friend, right?

A. Yes.

Q. And then they asked you about that friend, correct? They asked you what the name of the friend was, correct?

A. Yes.

Q. Then they asked you for your friend’s number, correct?

A. I don’t remember specifically what information they asked for.

The FBI also asked Michael about the stuff he left with him when he moved to New York, which Michael explained was just furniture, though a lot of it.

Q. We’ll come back to that if we need to. Let’s move to the next point. They then asked you if Mr. Schulte had left any stuff with you, correct?

A. Yes.

Q. You told them that he had, correct?

A. Yes.

Q. It was normal, everyday stuff he left with you, correct?

A. I wouldn’t say it’s normal. It was a lot of furniture. So I don’t think that’s normal.

Again, it may well be that, two years after the FBI would have had real questions about Michael’s candor, the CIA concluded they had to reconsider his employment because he could have prevented the theft but did not.

But I wonder whether, by the time DOJ posed these questions anew in August 2019 (which, if I’ve got his interview dates correct, was the only interview he had after the time that Schulte had been formally charged with the theft), their doubts about his other answers had taken on greater significance.

Update: Clarified that the “pseudo” credentials in the transcript are a reference to “sudo” root access.

Update: In a letter opposing any order to share the CIA’s determination to put Michael on paid leave, the government explains the basis for it:

  • Adverse polygraph results
  • His relationship with Schulte
  • His close proximity to the theft of the data and (what appears to be) reason to believe he witnessed more anomalies at the time Schulte was stealing it
  • “Recent inquiries” suggesting Michael may still be hiding information about the theft
  • His “unwillingness to cooperate with a CIA security investigation into his physical altercation with the defendant”

That is, the speculation above seems to be born out. The three questions that leaves are”

  • Why did they put him on leave rather than fire him?
  • Which of the questions above do they think he was not truthful about?
  • Why did they wait until August 2019 to put him on leave?

Joshua Schulte’s Human Graymail Campaign Targets Mike Pompeo

“Graymail” is a term used to describe when a defendant attempts to make a prosecution involving classified information too difficult for the government to pursue by demanding reams of classified evidence that the government either has to water down to make admissible at trial or argue is not helpful to the defense.

As an example, Scooter Libby employed a defense that he didn’t lie to the grand jury about his efforts to expose Valerie Plame, but rather forgot about those efforts, because he was so distracted by everything scary he reviewed in daily Presidential Daily Briefs. He forced the government to substitute a great deal of information from PDBs and almost upended the trial as a result.

It has been clear for some time that accused Vault 7 leaker Joshua Schulte was employing such a strategy, but with a twist. He obviously has been trying to release as much classified information from the CIA as possible, both through legitimate means and via leaking it. But starting last fall, there was a dispute about how Schulte could serve trial subpoenas on CIA witnesses and whether he had to work through prosecutors to do so; Schulte argued the government was trying to learn his defensive strategy by vetting his subpoenas.

The dispute just surfaced again in the form of a government motion in limine to exclude 3 CIA witnesses and require Schulte to provide justifications for a slew of other CIA witnesses he has subpoenaed. At least 63 CIA witnesses have informed the CIA that he has subpoenaed them, and that’s just the ones who have informed the agency.

The Government understands that the defendant has served at least 69 current or former CIA employees with subpoenas in this case. This includes subpoenas for 23 individuals identified in a preliminary witness list the Government provided to the defense as a courtesy on August 16, 2019, which the Court authorized in an Order dated November 26, 2019 (Dkt. 200), and at least 46 additional subpoenas since then. That number reflects those recipients who have informed the CIA’s Office of General Counsel of the latest subpoenas, as required by CIA regulations.1

1 The Government does not know the precise number of subpoenas that the defendant has issued because the Government is only aware of the subpoenas issued to individuals who have reported receiving them to the CIA’s Office of General Counsel.

With respect to this slew of witnesses, the government asks just that Schulte be required to show that they have firsthand knowledge that is relevant to the trial that would not be cumulative.

But with respect to three, the government offers specific objections. The government’s objections to two — a covert field officer and the Center for Cyber Intelligence’s Chief Counsel — seem utterly reasonable. But the government’s objection to a third — Mike Pompeo, who was CIA Director when WikiLeaks published the leaks — is more dubious.

To the extent it’s discernible given redactions in the government’s motion, here are the objections to those three witnesses.

Lisa: Schulte has subpoenaed a woman pseudonymed “Lisa,” a “high up” customer of CIA’s hacking tools. Schulte argues that because CIA officers did not “warn” her about Schulte, it’s proof of his innocence. The government argues that Schulte is trying to call “Lisa” to testify in part to admit into evidence statements that he made to her, which would be hearsay designed to avoid taking the stand himself.

Erin: Schulte wants to call the Chief Counsel of CCI to testify about things she said in an FBI interview about other potential leads to find the culprit behind the theft. Apparently, she raised an off-site event that took place between March 8-10, 2016 that might play a role. According to the original theory of the case, Schulte used an opportunity when everyone else was gone from the office, possibly during that event, to steal these files. But, as the government points out, Schulte didn’t ask “Jeremy Weber” anything about this event when he was on the stand, even though Weber attended it personally. They note Schulte instead wants to ask someone who wasn’t there — Erin — about it. Plus, as the government notes, Erin is the counsel for the victim of this crime, and as such is protected by attorney-client privilege.

Mike Pompeo: Finally, Schulte wants to call Mike Pompeo. The government wants to exclude Pompeo because, during the period when he was a CIA employee as its Director, he had no direct knowledge of the theft.

While Sec. Pompeo was undoubtedly kept informed about the consequences of the defendant’s crimes and the CIA’s response to secure its systems going forward, he–like virtually all similarly situated high-ranking government officials–received that information through briefings and summaries provided by others, which is quintessential inadmissible hearsay, rather than first-hand knowledge of the facts.

Except that’s probably not why Schulte wants to call him. In fact, I predicted Schulte would call Pompeo back in November.

Notably, the government motion invokes the Senate’s recognition that WikiLeaks resembles “a non-state hostile intelligence service.” That may well backfire in spectacular fashion. That statement didn’t come until over a year after Schulte is alleged to have stolen the files. And the statement was a follow-up to Mike Pompeo’s similar claim, which was a direct response to Schulte’s leak. If I were Schulte, I’d be preparing a subpoena to call Pompeo to testify about why, after the date when Schulte allegedly stole the CIA files, on July 24, 2016, he was still hailing the purported value of WikiLeaks’ releases.

Because of the way the government has argued that Schulte’s choice to leak to WikiLeaks is proof he intended to harm the US, it makes then House Intelligence Chair Mike Pompeo’s celebration of WikiLeaks’ publication of the stolen DNC emails — a celebration that took place months after Schulte is alleged to have sent the emails to WikiLeaks — a pertinent issue.

Given what the government has argued, Pompeo might be required to take the stand and admit that he was just being an asshole who was happy to damage the US if it meant his party would benefit when he celebrated the WikiLeaks publication of stolen DNC emails in July 2016. Of course, that’s the last thing he wants to do — and if he did, his boss, who got elected by cheering such damage, might well fire him. Pompeo’s view of WikiLeaks in July 2016 is all the more relevant given that the government appears to be planning to make … something of the Schulte’s response to these very same leaks.

Schulte is clearly engaged in human graymail with this larger request, and I expect Judge Paul Crotty will agree to the government’s demand that Schulte show some particularized value to each of these CIA witnesses.

But given their efforts to treat WikiLeaks as a particularly damaging kind of leak recipient, I think Schulte may be able to make a compelling argument that Pompeo should have to explain his past enthusiasm for WikiLeaks’ publications.

Joshua Schulte’s Hot and Cold Snowden Views

I’ve been tracking the government’s claims that the Vault 7 leaks “relate” to earlier WikiLeaks leaks — including Chelsea Manning’s and Anonymous‘ — Edward Snowden, and Shadow Brokers.

With respect to Snowden, specifically, in a warrant application submitted in 2017 (PDF 150) the government cited Schulte’s search for a specific Snowden tweet on August 4, 2016, just as he started searching for WikiLeaks information.

In a November filing laying out their theory of the crime, the government cited his searches on WikiLeaks and “related” topics in that same time period.

Around this time, Schulte also began regularly to search for information about WikiLeaks. In the approximately six years leading to August 2016, Schulte had conducted one Google search for WikiLeaks. Beginning on or about August 4, 2016 (approximately three months after he stole the Classified Information), Schulte conducted numerous Google searches for WikiLeaks and related terms and visited hundreds of pages that appear to have resulted from those searches. For example, in addition to searching for information about WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, its primary leader, Schulte also conducted searches using the search terms “narcissist snowden,” “wikileaks code,” “wikileaks 2017,” “shadow brokers,” and “shadow broker’s auction bitcoin.” “Snowden” was presumably a reference to Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who disclosed information about a purported NSA surveillance program, and “Shadow Brokers” was a reference to a group of hackers who disclosed online computer code that they purportedly obtained from the NSA, beginning in or about August 2016. Indeed, in contrast to the period before August 4, 2016, between that date and March 2017 (when the first of the Leaks occurred), Schulte conducted searches for Wikileaks and related information on at least 30 separate days.

Many of these searches, particularly the Snowden ones, could have been innocuous.

When Schulte’s lawyers tried to complain that Paul Rosenzweig’s inclusion of Manning, Anonymous, and Snowden in his expert testimony on WikiLeaks falsely assumed that Schulte knew of those earlier leaks, the government revealed that in contemporaneous chats, Schulte had commented on both Manning and Snowden.

Moreover, even setting aside the dubious assertion that a member of the U.S. intelligence community could have been completely unaware of WikiLeaks’ serial disclosures of classified and sensitive information and the resulting harm, the Government’s proof at trial will include evidence that the defendant himself was well aware of WikiLeaks’ actions and the harms it caused. For example, WikiLeaks began to disclose classified information Manning provided to the organization beginning in or about April 2010, including purported information about the United States’ activities in Afghanistan. In electronic chats stored on the defendant’s server, the defendant discussed these disclosures. For example, on August 10, 2010, the defendant wrote in a chat “you didn’t read the wikileaks documents did you?” and, after that “al qaeda still has a lot of control in Afghanistan.” In addition, on October 18, 2010, the defendant had another exchange in which he discussed Manning’s disclosures, including the fact that the information provided was classified, came from U.S. military holdings, and that (according to the defendant) it was easy for Manning to steal the classified information and provide it to WikiLeaks. Similarly, in a June 9, 2013 exchange, the defendant compared Manning to Edward Snowden, the contractor who leaked classified information from the National Security Agency, and stated, in substance and in part, that Snowden, unlike Manning, “didnt endanger in [sic] people.”

As I noted, that exchange the very day Snowden came forward might suggest Schulte had a much less critical view of Snowden’s leak than Manning’s.

But that’s not what he told his former CIA colleague, who testified this week under the pseudonym Jeremy Weber. To Weber, Schulte condemned Snowden’s behavior in the strongest terms, arguing Snowden was a traitor who should be executed.

A. I don’t believe so, no.

Q. You don’t remember him ever discussing leakers with you?

A. I, I do remember talking about leakers.

Q. Okay. What do you recall?

A. There was discussion around Snowden.

Q. Okay. And?

A. Schulte felt that Snowden was a — had betrayed his country.

Q. That doesn’t, you know, he seems to have strong opinions on everything. You sure he didn’t say more?

A. He probably would have call him a traitor. Said he should be executed for sure. I don’t remember specific verbiage, but he did express his typical strong opinions.

Q. Right. Then he had those same opinions about Chelsea Manning, correct?

A. Possibly. I don’t remember conversations about Chelsea Manning.

Q. And when he was talking about Snowden, it was clear to you that he strongly believed in the mission of the CIA, correct?

A. Yes.

Q. And he strongly believed that you should do nothing against America, correct?

A. Yes.

Q. And he thought Snowden should be executed, correct?

A. I believe I recall specifically him saying that.

Remarkably, Schulte’s lawyer Sabrina Shroff didn’t seem to expect this answer, even though she made much of the prior interviews Weber had had with what she called prosecutors, but which instead probably reflects having gotten 16 302s for Weber, many of them probably interviews with just FBI agents conducting early interviews as part of the investigation.

Q. You met with each one of these prosecutors, correct?

A. I don’t know if I talked to all of them, but, yes.

Q. You’ve talked to them somewhere between 11 and 15 times?

A. I have no idea what the number was.

Q. March 22, 2017, March 27, April 5, May 8th, May 22, June 1st, August 31. This was all in 2017.

A. Okay.

Q. Do you have any idea how many hours you spent with them in 2017?

A. No, I don’t.

Q. 2018, you met with them on January 12, June 1st, June 11, August 6, November 12, December 12, Any idea how many hours you spent with them?

MR. LAROCHE: Objection.

A. No.

THE COURT: Overruled.

Q. Then you met with them in January. Correct?

A. Yes.

Q. January 14, January 21, and January 29. Correct?

A. Possibly, yes.

Still, if Shroff has 16 302s from Weber and she didn’t know how he would answer this question, whether he and Schulte had ever spoken about Snowden’s leaks, it suggests the FBI and prosecutors never thought to ask someone who had worked side by side with Schulte for 6 years, starting around the same time as the Manning leaks and continuing through the Snowden leaks. Which is pretty remarkable.

The government responded by getting Weber to read from Schulte’s prison notebook where he seemingly advocated for sending top secret documents to WikiLeaks.

Q. Can you please read what the defendant wrote here?

A. “This is a huge wake-up call to U.S. intelligence officers. The Constitution you fight to defend will be” —

MS. SHROFF: Denied.

A. — “denied to you if, God forbid, you are ever accused of a crime. If your government has no allegiance in you, why do you have any allegiance towards your government or associates provided info to the NYT.”

MR. LAROCHE: Can we go up to the next, to the top of this page, please.

Q. Again, is this the defendant’s handwriting?

A. Yes.

Q. Can you please read what the defendant wrote?

A. “Your service in” — defense, maybe, “in” — I don’t recognize that word — “security investigations and pristine criminal history can’t even get you bail. As Joshua Schulte has said, you are denied a presumption of innocence. Ironic, you do your country’s dirty work, but when you — when your country accuses you of a crime, you are arrested and presumed guilty. And” — I don’t — “and” something, “your service. Send all of your secrets here: WikiLeaks.”

The chats from 2013 are not yet in evidence, so the government simply relied on what they had already entered with Weber based off his familiarity with Schulte’s handwriting.

But Shroff will — and already has — argued that you can’t argue the views Schulte expressed after he had been in jail for months were the same ones that motivated his actions in 2016, when he allegedly stole all these files. Weber couldn’t place his conversations about Snowden in time, so his views could have also changed before he leaked the files. But the 2018 prison notebooks cannot be said to reflect Schulte’s views in 2016.

The government seems intent on using Snowden et al to prove a level of mens rea that’s more than they need to prove to get convictions on the Espionage Act charges — that Schulte intended to do harm rather than had reason to know, based off his understanding of classification and the import of those hacking tools, that it would do harm. The varying things Schulte has said about Snowden and others may or may not support that, at least for the Espionage charges tied to the 2016 leaks.

That said, if and when Schulte is sentenced for all this, the testimony that he once claimed to believe leakers like Snowden should be executed may not help him avoid a life sentence.

Calyx Institute has generously funded obtaining these Schulte trial transcripts. Please consider a tax deductible donation to support that effort.

The FBI Downloaded CIA’s Hacking Tools Using Starbuck’s WiFi

One of the most interesting details from the yesterday’s Joshua Schulte trial involved how the FBI obtained the Vault 7 and Vault 8 materials they entered into evidence yesterday. Because the FBI did not want to download the files onto an existing FBI computer (in part, out of malware concerns) and because they didn’t want to use an FBI IP address, they got a new computer and downloaded all the files at Starbucks.

Q. What were some of the parts of that plan?

A. So, one of the parts would be to obtain a separate computer that wasn’t connected, that wasn’t a previous government computer or connected to our network.

Another component was to just use public wi-fi and not a government-attributable internet connection. And the third part would be to find the best way to store this unique piece of evidence in the best way possible.

Q. Let’s talk about each of those steps. I think you said that you got a nongovernment computer, is that correct?

A. Correct.

Q. Why is that?

A. Just so that when we entered it into evidence, we wouldn’t be taking something from the network and essentially putting it aside indefinitely. And then also, we did not want to download information from the internet, which could potentially contain viruses or malware, to an FBI system.

Q. Do you have an understanding of what was contained within the disclosures made by WikiLeaks?

A. I do.

Q. And what is that information?

A. They were information about CIA hacking tools and cyber-exploitation tools.

Q. What, if any, impact did that have on your decision to use a nongovernment computer?

A. Anytime you download something from the internet, you take a risk. And then given what type of information we were going to acquire, we wanted to take an extra — many extra steps of security to maintain the integrity of our systems as well as be able to get the information and then store it properly.

Q. I think the second part of the plan was using public space to download the leak. Is that correct?

A. Correct.

Q. Why didn’t you download the leak from an FBI facility?

A. So, anytime actions on the internet are traceable as well as downloads, and we didn’t want to use an FBI system. And given the type of information we were going to acquire, we didn’t want to use an FBI system to download the information which could then be traced back to us and potentially implicate the IP address and potentially other investigations.

Q. And why would that be problematic for the FBI?

A. So, anytime actions on the internet are traceable as well as downloads, and we didn’t want to use an FBI system. And given the type of information we were going to acquire, we didn’t want to use an FBI system to download the information which could then be traced back to us and potentially implicate the IP address and potentially other investigations.

Q. And why would that be problematic for the FBI?

The explanation is interesting for more than the seeming validation of Starbuck’s WiFi quality.

It’s also interesting given details of timing and download method.

Q. When did you first go to Starbucks to download the leak?

A. In March of 2018.

Q. And how did you download the leak once you were there?

A. I went to the — used an internet browser, went to the WikiLeaks website first. Didn’t really see a quick way to download all the — the large volume of information, so WikiLeaks had also provided a torrent website, which is essentially just — it was about 15 hyperlinks that connected to zip files to download the bulk of the information that they released.

Q. What is a torrent website?

A. It’s a — it looked — just a blank website, but it had 15 hyperlinks, and each time you clicked on one of the links, it asked if you wanted to save the associated zip file. And then I saw there were 15 of those, and then I just downloaded it that way.

Q. And what is a zip file?

A. Zip file is just a way to compress information. So if you want to send a ton of files over an email or kind of website to website, you can use software to compress that information in a more easily storable format.

Q. Why did you go to the torrent instead of downloading it directly from the website?

A. I did — I tried — I perused the website for a little and didn’t see — given the volume of the information, there wasn’t, to my appearance, a good way to capture all of it. And I knew of this — from our investigation I knew of this torrent address, which had been provided by WikiLeaks too, if you wanted to essentially bulk download all the information.

Q. Did you download those zip files to the computer?

A. I did.

Q. And were you able to unzip those zip files?

A. I was.

Q. Were you able to download any of WikiLeaks’s public statements on that computer?

A. I was.

Q. And how did you do that?

A. Via screenshots.

Q. And you said you downloaded the zip files to the computer?

A. Correct.

Q. How long did that downloading process take?

A. Around an hour.

Q. And approximately how much data was found on those zip
files?

A. Approximately 1.4 gigabytes.

One thing this does is explain that it took an hour to download just what got published on WikiLeaks. This will become a critical detail in proving that the files had to have been stolen from inside CIA — basically the “download speed” argument thrown back at the Russian hack denialists.

By revealing that that amounted to just 1.4GB of material, prosecutors have revealed that what WikiLeaks published was just a fraction of the 1TB of material that, per his contemporaneous Google searches, Schulte stole.

The other thing this description reveals is that WikiLeaks did not include Vault 8, the one case (beyond Marble, the obfuscation tool Schulte wrote) where they published source code, in their Torrent download of the files.

Q. Did there come a time when you went back to Starbucks to download additional materials?

A. I did.

Q. Approximately when did that happen?

A. In May of 2018.

Q. And why did you go back to download additional materials?

A. Through the investigation, we determined that the zip files which I had downloaded contained Vault 7, but it did not contain the Vault 8 release, and we wanted to capture the entirety of what WikiLeaks had put out there from March 2017 to November of 2017.

Q. Were you able to download Vault 8 when you went back?

A. I was.

Q. How did you do that?

A. So, it was a lot less information. I was able to just go to the release that WikiLeaks specified as Vault 8 and download the singular files in that way. It’s just — it’s a kind of like right click, save as.

Q. And did you download the Vault 8 leak on the same computer that you downloaded the Vault 7 leaks?

I’m not sure why WikiLeaks wouldn’t include Vault 8, but I find the decision very curious.

Finally, this story is really interesting from an investigative standpoint. The FBI didn’t download the files they were going to enter into evidence in this trial until March and May of 2018, a year after the leak and a year after they identified Schulte as the leaker. Someone — possibly the CIA, which started to investigate the leak even before the first dump — had done a forensic comparison of the first release within days after the leak. The FBI had access to that.

But they went back a year later and prepared the evidence for that trial.

During the entire period of the Schulte prosecution, prosecutors made it clear the case may involve classified information (so his attorneys needed to be able to get clearance). Starting in January 2018, they made clear the leak would be charged.

But — particularly given the child porn charges he faces would have the same kind of prison sentence that the Espionage charges against him will — they could have forgone the trial (I had heard discussion that just the porn would be charged, so it’s possible that was the initial plan). Yes, they want to make an example of him, but the CIA has had to declassify an unbelievable amount of sensitive information to put Schulte on trial. Plus, the cost for prosecuting this crime is enormous. So I wonder whether they didn’t make the final decision to do this prosecution until 2018.

If so, that would parallel the timing of the Julian Assange prosecution in interesting ways. He was charged in December 2017, then indicted in March 2018, literally the same month that FBI obtained the Vault 7 files to enter into evidence.