Inter-agency cooperations among the US big government agencies may sound like something that comes as a given, but it seems that can’t be farther from the truth. According to new files from the Vault 7 pile the Wikileaks has been sharing for months, the CIA has been installing fake updates for a software it developed for fellow agencies NSA, FBI, and DHS, collecting data instead.
Let’s start from the beginning, however. So, the CIA created a biometrics database it shared with all other agencies. It created the software in such a way, however, that it stops working within 6 months, proclaiming it needs an update, which can only be done by a CIA operative. The agent visits the sister agency and installs the update via a USB.
The proclaimed update, however, is a tool called ExpressLane. Mimicking the update status bar we’re all used to seeing, the tool actually collects all new biometrics data recorded by the system since the last visit. It’s not necessarily a spying tool, but it is a way the CIA can ensure that other agencies are truthful with the CIA.
ExpressLane also prolongs the biometrics database validity for another six months or any other custom period of time. The 6-month period, however, is just right to make sure the CIA’s own database is up to date, whether the other agencies have shared all the data they collected or not.
The leaked documents indicate ExpressLane was developed for the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology. WikiLeaks claims the tool comes from CrossMatch, a US biometrics vendor that has multiple government contracts and that has boasted in the past that it was one of its tools that led to the identification and localization of Osama bin Laden, a story to which we all know the ending of.
Competition between CIA and others put US security at risk
This whole situation is rather odd. Theoretically, the government agencies are supposed to work together to protect the United States. Yet, in reality, we see a sort of competition between agencies, which can often lead to ineffectiveness. Countless of occasions in the past we’ve seen situations reach a boiling point simply because agencies refused to share information. With this tool, the CIA seems adamant that the FBI, DHS, and the NSA, will share all the info they have, whether they want to or not.
The distrust is clear and it’s somewhat disheartening to see the government agencies resort to such activities in order to get the data they want and need, instead of seeing a closer relationship.