Former Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra, onetime chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, discussed the CIA WikiLeaks “Vault 7” documents with SiriusXM host Raheem Kassam on Thursday’s Breitbart News Daily.
“Is somebody from the CIA watching me through my television as I get undressed every night?” Kassam asked.
“I don’t think so,” Hoekstra replied with tongue in cheek. “My experience with the CIA and NSA, although some of the recent disclosures have caused me some concern, are that the CIA and the intelligence community are really very, very good at making sure that the tremendous tools that they develop, that they only use those against the bad guys, the non-Americans. They don’t use it inside of our borders, and they don’t target Americans.”
Kassam noted the remarkable scale of the surveillance system described by the WikiLeaks documents, including the ability to hack into everything from mobile phones and Windows computers to smart cars. “Are we able to say with certainty that that is not used by any government agency against the U.S. public?” he asked.
“I don’t think you can go there, no, not at all,” said Hoekstra. “I think if the FBI or someone wants to use this in a criminal case, where they’re targeting gangs or drugs or drug cartels, that technology exists, and it may be used against Americans or people who reside in the United States.”
“You’d have to use it with a warrant,” he added. “You would have to go to the court and get permission to use it.”
Hoekstra agreed with Kassam’s point that data is being collected on an epic scale, and people worry it could be accessed in the future through the kind of warrants Hoekstra described.
“Clearly, the problem with the digital world, the cyber world, is that it doesn’t respect borders,” Hoekstra observed. “You make a phone call in Afghanistan, and you’re making the call to Pakistan, and you think, ‘Well, of course, that phone call is going to be routed the shortest distance.’ In reality, it may not be. That call may actually be routed through the United States. That phone call goes from Pakistan, it goes on a line through cyberspace, it goes through the U.S. and then it ends up in Pakistan, and then you’re sitting there and saying, ‘Whoa.’”
“Now, what is that? Is it foreign intelligence? Is that protected under current law? The borders as we’ve traditionally talked about them, the protections that we’ve typically put in place – you’re right, they’re very hazy, and they’ve become blurred in the digital world,” he said.
Kassam ran through the number of Internet-connected devices with cameras and microphones that can be found in the average household and asked if it was silly to expect that “anything I say in my house is private anymore.”
“You’re silly if you’re a person that may be of interest to a foreign government, or if you’re a significant consumer,” Hoekstra answered. “I think the era of privacy as we know it has been gone for 15, 20 years. The tools that have been at our disposal in our intelligence community pretty much say that anybody that is outside of the United States that we have an interest in better be pretty careful, at least according to these latest CIA documents, the NSA documents. We’ve got tremendous power to compromise your privacy. But the same is true for Americans who may be of interest to the Russians, the Chinese, or some other foreign entity. These people have the same tools. Perhaps they have even more powerful tools.”
“I think one of the things that we’re seeing from what’s been happening with WikiLeaks is that cyber is a great equalizer. On the traditional battlefield, America dominates – smart bombs and all these types of things. In the cyber world, countries like Iran, North Korea, Israel, they may be our equal in terms of their capabilities on the cyber battlefield. It’s very, very scary,” he said.
Kassam suggested one of the scary features of this new world is that Americans are required to place a great deal of faith in bureaucrats and secretive government agencies.
“I think it’s a perfect point that you’re bringing up because what’s come out – Chelsea Manning, Snowden, and now, the CIA – it shows two things. The content demonstrates how really good we are in cyber. You go, ‘Wow, we can do those kinds of things? We are really, really good,’” Hoekstra said.
“The second point it brings out is it says, ‘Wow, we are really, really bad.’ These are the premier intelligence organizations in the world, and all three of them have suffered massive leaks,” he continued. “Can we really trust these people? They can’t even protect their own information.”
“How confident can we be that there may not be a rogue element in the intelligence community that are using these very sophisticated and powerful tools against Americans and using them in places where they’re not supposed to be used?” Hoekstra asked. “If they can’t protect their own data from outside intruders, how can we be sure that this information and these tools aren’t being used by people inside in ways that they shouldn’t?”
“I think it’s a great question. I can’t give you the answer, but I share your nervousness that these very powerful tools, that there may be people inside the agencies who are using them in ways that they shouldn’t be,” he said.
“It also challenges the credibility of the CIA and the intelligence community because, remember, the CIA leak came out and said, “You know what? We have the capability to go into networks, steal the data, manipulate the data, whatever, and we can leave footprints and fingerprints that make it look like somebody else did it.” And yet, six months ago, they came out and said with a high degree of certainty, ‘We know that the Russians hacked into the DNC.’ How can you be so confident? If we have the tools to go in, why couldn’t somebody else go into the DNC and do the same thing?” he wondered.
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