Leaked Documents Show FBI, DEA, & Army Can Control Your Computer

By Carey Wedler

Leaked emails from an Italian-based hacking company reveal that government agencies engage in surveillance more invasive than previously thought, spending millions of dollars on spyware and malware software to accomplish their questionable goals. Tellingly, their use of the product places them squarely in the same category as other repressive regimes around the world.

After hackers ironically hacked Hacking Tools, a Milan-based company that sells strictly to governments, hundreds of gigabytes of emails and financial records were leaked. The emails show that the FBI, DEA, and U.S. Army all purchased software that enables them to view suspects’ photos, emails, listen to and record their conversations, and activate the cameras on their computers, among other things.

While this may seem like old news, the most controversial revelation was the government’s purchases of “Remote Control Systems.” The FBI, DEA, and U.S. Army, courtesy of Hacking Tools, possess the capability to take control of a suspect’s computer screen. The technology is so invasive that even the DEA, known for its violative surveillance policies, had reservations about purchasing it.

According to documents obtained by The Intercept, an internal request to purchase RCS was denied by DEA management in 2011 because it was “too controversial.” By 2012, however, the DEA had resolved its concerns, likely spending a similar amount to the $773,226.64 (plus thousands in maintenance fees) the FBI invested in its own set of software.

Hacking Tools was so committed to business with these American agencies that it concocted codenames to refer to them. As The Intercept summarizes,

Hacking Team refers to its U.S. clients by code names. The FBI unit is ‘Phoebe’…the DEA is ‘Katie,’  and the CIA, which appears to have sampled, but not bought Remote Control System, is ‘Marianne.’”

Hacking Tools has been sharply criticized for its sale of RCS to oppressive regimes around the world. From Sudan to Bahrain, Hacking Tools seeks business opportunities with rulers that target political activists, journalists, and political opponents—putting the American government agencies that employ the same technology—and often have the same objectives— in questionable company.

Aside from RCS, one of the more contentious revelations is the company’s hard sell that it can bypass encryption, a capability the FBI has openly desired since phone companies made encryption a default setting last year. According to one company newsletter, Hacking Tools offers “technologies to ACCESS THE DATA…IN CLEARTEXT, BEFORE it gets encrypted by the device and sent to the network and AFTER it is received from the network and decrypted by the device itself. Actually THIS IS precisely WHAT WE DO.”

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The FBI did seek warrants to use Hacking Tools technology in a handful of cases, but apparently uses a different platform for “critical” investigations. What the FBI really wanted from the Italian firm, according to leaked emails, was “more ability to go after users of Tor, the anonymizing web browser.” Such users accounted for 60% of the FBI’s use of Hacking Tools products.

Regardless of how the technology is used, the FBI has encountered skepticism from lawmakers. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, asked the director of the FBI for “more specific information about the FBI’s current use of spyware,” in order for the Senate Judiciary Committee to investigate “serious privacy concerns.”

In spite of these legitimate concerns, the technology is permeating other levels of government. Largely because of aggressive marketing by Hacking Tools, District Attorney offices around the country are eager to use the software. From San Bernadino to Manhattan, government lawyers have expressed strong interest in using the company’s products for investigations, suggesting a dangerous permeation of unconstitutional surveillance into an already decaying justice system.

Whether or not the government agencies who have purchased the software use it extensively or not is, at this point, irrelevant. That such bureaus and government officials have so much as the desire to use it — in some cases, in spite of a clear understanding of its controversial nature — is cause enough for concern.

Meanwhile, Hacking Tools has remained ambivalent. Company spokesperson Eric Rabe said, “we do not disclose the names or locations of our clients” and “we cannot comment on the validity of documents purportedly from our company.”

More telling of the company’s rationalization of perpetuating authoritarianism in the name of profit, however, is a quote from Giancarlo Russo, the company’s chief operating officer. In a 2013 email, he wrote,

If you buy a Ferrari… they can teach you how to drive. They cannot grant you will be the winner of the race…If Beretta sell [sic] you a gun, the most peculiar and sophisticated one, they can teach how to use it. They can not grant you are going to shoot your target properly on the field.

Carey Wedler writes for theAntiMedia.org, where this article first appeared. Tune in! Anti-Media Radio airs Monday through Friday @ 11pm Eastern/8pm Pacific. Help us fix our typos: [email protected].


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7 Comments on "Leaked Documents Show FBI, DEA, & Army Can Control Your Computer"

  1. all this money being spend on tracking americans could be put to better use. damn them all this gov’s. day is coming soon i hope. we should be tracking the gov employees and we just might find where all these trillions that they have stolen would be.

  2. do you still want driverless cars

  3. I can believe this as when i get on certain sites such as this one, my screen will flash for like a split second, but i catch it when it does it. Of course i post a lot of things against Obama and some of the other fools / idiots who work for our so called government. I also bitch about things like Jade Helm and a lot of things like 9-11. As long as i don’t threaten anyone, they can K.M.A.

    • Jim I understand you completely as a lot of weird things have happened on my computer as well but ‘we’ are small fry I suppose. Sure I will NOT go with a N.W.O or any boofheads invading my property, nor with I go with any unmoral state the government wants. I will fight these people until I drop, but they will have to start it. Usually if they want private people gaining some internet credibility they use a smear campaign or say they are a terrorist or mention the phrase(s) I.S or I.S.I.S or even I.S.I.L. I just call all these catchphrases and B.U.L.L.S.H.I.T.

      • When we are small fry and we condemn our government / president, the big boofheads believe it will lead them to bigger things. We have probably been investigated and i am not being paranoid either. I do not trust our government in any way, shape or form . They only tell the American public what they want to hear. A lot of the people agree with everything our government says. I believe in Freedom Of Speech and Freedom Of Expression, but it seems our government doesn’t.

        • Jim you aren’t being paranoid at all and I too believe we have been investigated as a result of ‘key words’ and many other high tech computer programs manned by thousands of ‘people’ as part of what they think is doing a good job keeping potential ‘terrorists’ away, although most terrorists are in the government and those who do ‘act out’ always seem to slip through their net… hmm makes you wonder of the reality of some of these events that have happened to ramp up the war on terrorism or rid us of our guns!?
          I believe 100% in freedom of speech and expression within moral limits and fully agree with you about the apathy of some people.
          Cheers, Pete

  4. Let the fools of Government invade the cities, countryside and towns of our USA. Then we will see what happens to people (invaders) who attempt to make slaves of others…..They won’t be going back home. That’s what will happen to them…

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