It’s a cliche of political scandals that “the coverup is worse than the crime”: Attempts to conceal misconduct, because they’re easier to prove and provide otherwise elusive evidence of a guilty mind, often end up being more politically damaging than the underlying misconduct would have been. In the case of the latest WikiLeaks document dump, the first in a planned series from a cache the site has dubbed “Vault 7,” we have an apparent reversal of the formula: The un-coverup—the fact of the leak itself—is probably more significant than the substance of what has thus far been revealed.
There are, of course, some points of real interest in the archive of documents, mostly concerning an array of hacking tools and software exploits developed or used by the Central Intelligence Agency’s Engineering Development Group—and it’s likely more will emerge as reporters and analysts churn through more than 8,000 files and documents. We’ve confirmed that the CIA has hung onto and exploited at least a handful of undisclosed “zero day” vulnerabilities in widely-used software platforms, including Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, the operating systems on which nearly all modern smartphones run.
We also learned that—as many of us expected—the obstacles to conventional wiretapping posed by the growing prevalence of encryption have spurred intelligence agencies to hunt for alternative means of collection, which include not only compromising communications endpoints such as smartphones, but also seeking to re-purpose networked appliances on the Internet of Things as surveillance devices. The latter goal has even spawned its own research department, the Embedded Development Branch.