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

July 7, 2015   |   Carey Wedler

Carey Wedler
July 7, 2015

(ANTIMEDIA) 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 Team, 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 Team, 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 Team 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 Team has been sharply criticized for its sale of RCS to oppressive regimes around the world. From Sudan to Bahrain, Hacking Team 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 Team 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.

The FBI did seek warrants to use Hacking Team 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 Team 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 Team, 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 Team 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.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article referred to Hacking Team as “Hacking Tools.” The error has since been corrected.


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Author: Carey Wedler

Carey Wedler joined Anti-Media as an independent journalist in September of 2014. Her topics of interest include the police and warfare states, the Drug War, the relevance of history to current problems and solutions, and positive developments that drive humanity forward. She currently resides in Los Angeles, California, where she was born and raised.

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21 Comments

  1. Put a strong magnet on phone box.
    On 08-30-2008 I wrecked my motorbike with no helmet on. It killed me 3 times in life flight putting me into an 87 day coma waking with a recorded 5.5 brain injury requiring me to go through rehabs relearning life. Once I returned home I had a friend ask me to get a medical card and try CANNABIS. I was amazed because not only did my memories start returning but my thought process was working again. This made me research why. I found that THC reduces blood vessels while making the heart pump harder making blood go to the injured brain. Head rushes are proof.

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  2. I REALLY WOULD LIKE TO SEE THE FBI EVEN TRY TO DO ANYTHING WITH MY COMPUTER, THEY SURE WILL FIND OUT WHAT I MIGHT DO THEM AND THEY WILL NEVER KNOW WHAT HIT THEM, AND THAT IS A FACT ON THE MATTER!!

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  3. AMERIKA is the former Soviet Union on steroids! WAKE UP SHEEPLE – REVOLUTION will be the SOLUTION! mInr to you, NSA!

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  4. Hello FBI and NSA just so you know up front, I have no use for Obama and most Democrats. You can throw in a couple of Republicans too. While you're probing my computer could you use your expertise and clean it up to go faster? I've been having problems with my WI FI too, please check that out for me. Seems to be conflicting Windows programs too, I'm sure you would have no problems fixing them. I'm using Kaspersky a Russian Company, for my antivirus and firewall which upsets me somewhat as they are the best and yet are the ones responsible for hacking your computers. I'm thinking of switching to Webroot, what do you think of them? I know you must have your hands full of finding out who is hacking Social Security, your computers, the CIA, the IRS among other agencies but feel very safe that you are taking the time out of your busy schedule to check out what's on my computer and which porno site I'm using. I'm very glad you are tending to my computer, thank you for the service. Oh, I don't have any use for Muslims either. Thank you.

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  5. What the HEII is an "Italian Based Hacking Company?" A "Company" whose business is ILLEGAL trespass into your and my computers? All the U.S. based spy "companies" at least have the SHAME to DENY their activity. But a "COMPANY?" And please, look into my desktop too. I've been having some problems with the two worms you slipped into it last year. Seems they don't like the conservative, Christian conversations I've been having. Makes them shrivel-up. Their digital bodies are starting to stink, just like their authors. So….How 'bout that "Big Brother, eh?"

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  6. Corruption widespread.. Repubs must be involved too since they have done nothing about it. Call it Fedgate..
    Can the USA be saved now? Impeach Pinocchiobama and elect NO more career politicians.

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  7. No, no revolution or civil war, don't u know if we revolt, the powers that be stray in, there will be no election, that is what they want so they can put Marshall law in effect

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  8. So we should just give up and lie down while things continue to get worse and worse and eventually we become as bad as China? Fear ends in failure. I'm not saying we won't have a long and brutal battle on our hands but what would our country be like now if our forefathers had the same view?

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  9. Pamela Upton Why do people like you assume people are absolutely horrible who have anything bad to say about our country? It doesn't mean we do not have pride and love for our country. It simply means that we are sick of our ever oppressive government. I am a natural born citizen and have just as much right to be here as you do! I completely agree with David. Oh and I would like to point out that for all you know David is from America as well. Stop being a coward and think about the future generations in your family. Last weekend they past a law stating the police can now enter your home without any warrant and for any reason they deem fit. Not to mention for years now they can hold any citizen under arrest for as long as they like without charging them. Please open your eyes before it's too late.

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  10. If you're a conservative christian, you're everything the NSA wants. You're the definition of a compliant citizen and a member of the dominant culture. You and your ilk were everything that was wrong with the 2000's and the reason Bush got elected to 2 terms. Obama may be a power hungry statist, but he's not dumb, and Bush was a dumbass who surrounded himself with some seriously greedy and evil people, and it's conservative christians that elected him twice. Without yall, we would have never seen the "glory" of the Shrub.

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  11. We'll have a very hard time of it under ML, which is why we're being pushed into it. I suggest running for office. We need to fill those seats with true Americans and not infiltrators.

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  12. Damn i think this is what waterloo is doing to me!!! And my sister didn't even warn me about the camera what a bitch.

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  13. First, I would like to challenge the agencies monitoring this to come at me…
    Second, I want my fucking country back. This IS OPPRESSION!!!! There are too many "for instances". "We the people" need to wake up!

    "We the People" need to stand up, make our voices be heard, and regain what is ours. Across the board, from who grows and what is in our food to not being afraid to say proudly "I AM A GUN OWNER". I for one, am not going to live my life in a state of indifference.

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  14. Hello FBI, NSA, DEA, IRS, CIA, and all the other members of the alphabet soup. I just want you to know that as far as I'm concerned YOU'RE FIRED. You are no longer on my payroll. I've set my W-2 to "Tax Blocked" for Federal Income Tax, so you will no longer be receiving funding from me to spend on oppressive technology. I repeat, YOU'RE FIRED. I suggest anyone else who shares my concerns follow my example, because voting for the person picked for you (not BY you) isn't going to fix this. Only denial of resources will see change. FOLLOW ME!!

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  15. What do you mean "Tax Blocked"? They're going to send their Nazi goons after you if you don't pay your federal taxes. If you don't own a home and you work under the table that's a great idea, but for the rest of us, we're stuck like frogs in pots of boiling water.

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  16. No Mary once there is an election the powers that be will change, I'm saying don't do anything to bring Marshall law. Don't do anything that will keep this power in ofc, we need a new election and a revolt will keep the election from happening

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