Release of CIA files could be 'deeply damaging' to security, says ex-GCHQ chief

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The release of thousands of purported CIA files could be "deeply damaging" to security, a former UK intelligence chief has warned.

Sir David Omand voiced concerns after WikiLeaks published a trove of confidential material on the US agency, including details relating to alleged hacking techniques.

Sir David, a former director of Britain's GCHQ, told the Press Association: "The detail alleged to be in the individual documents could be deeply damaging to our security. It would help others build and deploy such tools."

The leaked files are said to lay bare the scale of the CIA's covert hacking programme, including techniques targeting consumer software.

It was claimed that software was developed to turn smart TVs into listening devices in a project codenamed Weeping Angel and including input from MI5.

Sir David said there is "nothing new" in the existence of "equipment interference" tools and highlighted new laws introduced in Britain last year.

He said: "Parliament spent all last year debating and then legislating to allow British agencies to use such methods, under strict regulation and oversight.

"Whilst WikiLeaks drags the UK into their story, unsurprisingly there is no mention of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 and the steps already taken by Parliament to ensure British agencies use such tools responsibly, applying the principles of necessity and proportionality."

British authorities' use of equipment interference as part of counter-terrorism and national security investigations first emerged in 2015.

The ability to interfere with computers or smartphones is seen as an increasingly important workaround in an era when sophisticated encryption makes it more difficult to intercept the communications of terrorists and serious criminals.

The IP Act introduced a strengthened authorisation regime for the use of equipment interference, including a requirement for bulk operations to be "foreign-focused" and signed off by a judicial commissioner.

WikiLeaks announced earlier this week that it was starting a series of leaks on the CIA, claiming it amounted to the largest ever publication of confidential documents on the agency.

The first tranche comprises more than 8,000 documents and files. The website said it was publishing substantive documentation while avoiding the distribution of "armed cyber-weapons". 

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange described the disclosure as "exceptional from a political, legal and forensic perspective".