The former director of the CIA has claimed millennials being employed by American security services are more likely to leak information because they are “culturally different” from their elders.
Speaking after WikiLeaks published thousands of documents appearing to reveal methods to access mobile phones, computers and event smart televisions from the world’s biggest technology brands, Michael Hayden said the need to hire young coders was part of the problem.
“In order to do this kind of stuff, we have to recruit from a certain demographic,” he told the BBC.
“I don’t mean to judge them at all but this group of Millennials and related groups simply have different understandings of the words loyalty, secrecy and transparency than certainly my generation did.
“So we bring these folks into the agency – good Americans, all, I assume – but culturally they have different instincts than the people who made the decision to hire them.
“We may be running into this different cultural approach that we saw with Chelsea Manning, with Edward Snowden and now, perhaps, with a third actor.”
Mr Hayden, a retired four-star general who ran the CIA under George W Bush after being Director of the National Security Agency, said the latest security breach was “incredibly damaging”.
He said the tactics exposed were needed to conduct “legitimate foreign intelligence”, adding: “It’s made my country and my country’s friends less safe.”
It was not immediately clear how WikiLeaks obtained the information, with the group saying its material came from “an isolated, high-security network” inside the CIA's Center for Cyber Intelligence.
It did not say whether the files were removed by a rogue employee or if the theft involved hacking a federal contractor working for the CIA, or perhaps breaking into a staging server where such information might have been temporarily stored.
“The archive appears to have been circulated among former US government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner, one of whom has provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive,” WikiLeaks said in a statement.
Around 800,000 government employees hold top security clearance, including 21,000 in CIA alone after a huge increase in information sharing after 9/11, creating a large pool of suspects for intelligence services to sift through.
Investigators suspect an agency contractor could once again be responsible for the teak, in what would be another embarrassing failure for special software and human resources programmes intended to catch so-called insider threats.
Donald Trump declared “I love WikiLeaks” during the election campaign while reading from hacked Democratic National Committee emails that damaged his opponent Hillary Clinton.
But the White House struck a different tone this week, with Mr Trump’s spokesman claiming there was a “big difference” between the two cases.
“The President is extremely concerned about this,” Sean Spicer told reporters.
“Playing with our nation's national security is not something that should be taken lightly under this administration.”
Some analysts argued the leak was beneficial to Mr Trump, who has publicly attacked his own intelligence agencies while dismissing a report last year that concluded Russia interfered in the US election to benefit the President.
The documents detailed CIA hacking tools the government employs to break into users' computers, mobile phones and even smart televisions from companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft and Samsung and subvert the world’s most popular technology.
They describe clandestine methods for bypassing or defeating encryption, antivirus tools and other protective security features intended to keep the private information of citizens and corporations safe from prying eyes.
The tools listed in the documents carry bizarre names, including Time Stomper, Fight Club, Jukebox, Bartender, Wild Turkey, Margarita and “RickyBobby,” a racing driver character in the comedy film Talladega Nights.
Broad exchanges of tools and information between the CIA, NSA and foreign intelligence services in the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand were included in the leaks.
The CIA would not comment on the authenticity of the documents or the investigation into their source, but said its mission was to “aggressively collect foreign intelligence” to protect the US and was legally prohibited from targeting American citizens in their homes.
“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,” a spokesperson added.
Additional reporting by agencies