Assange accuses CIA of 'devastating incompetence' over leaks

Dario THUBURN
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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been holed up at the Ecuadoran embassy in London since 2012 trying to avoid extradition to Sweden where he faces a rape allegation that he denies

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Thursday accused the CIA of "devastating incompetence" for failing to protect its hacking secrets and said he would work with tech companies to develop fixes for them.

"This is a historic act of devastating incompetence, to have created such an arsenal and then stored it all in one place," Assange said.

"It is impossible to keep effective control of cyber weapons... If you build them, eventually you will lose them," Assange said.

Assange was speaking in a press conference streamed live from Ecuador's embassy in London, where he has been living as a fugitive from justice since 2012.

He said his anti-secrecy website had "a lot more information" about the Central Intelligence Agency's hacking operation but would hold off on publishing it until WikiLeaks had spoken to tech manufacturers.

"We have decided to work with them to give them some exclusive access to the additional technical details we have so fixes can be developed and then pushed out.

"Once this material is effectively disarmed by us we will publish additional details about what has been occurring," he added.

Commenting on the press conference, Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska said Assange "should spend the rest of his life wearing an orange jumpsuit".

"He's an enemy of the American people and an ally to (Russian President) Vladimir Putin," he said in a statement.

- Hacking into TVs -

On Tuesday, WikiLeaks published nearly 9,000 documents it said were part of a huge trove leaked from the CIA, describing it as the largest ever publication of secret intelligence materials.

"This extraordinary collection, which amounts to more than several hundred million lines of code, gives its possessor the entire hacking capacity of the CIA," it said.

The documents showed that CIA hackers can turn a TV into a listening device, bypass popular encryption apps, and possibly control one's car.

Most experts believe the materials to be genuine, and US media said Wednesday that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is opening a criminal probe into the leak.

The source of the materials remained unclear.

The investigation could focus on whether the CIA was sloppy in its controls, or, as The Washington Post reported, it could be "a major mole hunt" for a malicious leaker or turncoat inside the agency.

WikiLeaks itself said the documents, hacking tools and code came from an archive that had circulated among US government hackers and private contractors.

"The CIA has been so careless to produce this material. So do various cyber mafia already have it? Do foreign intelligence agencies already have it? It's quite possible numerous people already might have it," Assange said.

An investigation would come as the CIA is already enmeshed in a politically-charged probe into Russia's alleged interference in the US election last year in support of President Donald Trump's campaign.

- 'Do us harm' -

WikiLeaks has stunned the US government with a series of publications of top secret political, diplomatic and intelligence materials in recent years.

The CIA on Wednesday accused the group of endangering Americans, helping US rivals and hampering the fight against terror threats through its leaks.

A CIA spokeswoman would not confirm the authenticity of the materials published by WikiLeaks.

Nevertheless, said spokeswoman Heather Fritz Horniak, "The American public should be deeply troubled by any WikiLeaks disclosure designed to damage the intelligence community's ability to protect America against terrorists and other adversaries."

"Such disclosures not only jeopardise US personnel and operations, but also equip our adversaries with tools and information to do us harm," she said.

Horniak defended the CIA's cyber operations, which the WikiLeaks materials showed focused heavily on breaking into personal electronics using a wide range of malware systems.

"It is CIA's job to be innovative, cutting-edge, and the first line of defence in protecting this country from enemies abroad," she said.

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