WikiLeaks is considering releasing more CIA hacking tools if internet security professionals can first help make sure the cyber weapons can't be used any further, the group's founder, Julian Assange, said Thursday.
Assange ridiculed the CIA for failing to guard information about its online arsenal, allowing it to be passed around within the intelligence community. That is how the material ended up in WikiLeaks' hands ─ and, possibly, criminals', he said.
The spy agency "didn’t secure it, lost control of it and then appears to have covered up that fact," Assange said.
He said that WikiLeaks had held off publishing viruses and other weapons themselves. But that could change if cybersecurity experts and software manufacturers build protections from them.
“We have quite a lot of exploits that we want to disarm before publishing,” Assange said.
Assange said his group's act showed that "it is impossible to keep effective control of cyber weapons" and that "if you build them, eventually you will lose them."
He added that the material "may also be in black market or used by American hackers who cross both sides of the fence."
That is an explosive charge but the CIA has said they do not comment on the authenticity of purportedly stolen documents.
If true, that would be a much bigger deal than his group's publication Tuesday of nearly 9,000 stolen documents detailing the CIA's hacking secrets, including suggestions that the agency is able to turn smart televisions into listening devices and defeat encrypted communication tools widely used by journalists and sources. The documents do not include the actual cyber weapons.
A senior intelligence official has confirmed to NBC News that the published documents included authentic materials. Some of the documents are classified Top Secret. But is often difficult to determine the accuracy of everything WikiLeaks publishes.
Andrew Komarov, chief intelligence officer of the security firm InfoArmor, told NBC News that he hadn't seen CIA hacking tools for sale on the black market, but that "components for the tools" had already been available.
The FBI is now investigating the unauthorized publication, with Russia a major focus, given Moscow’s connections with WikiLeaks and hacking during the 2016 presidential campaign, two intelligence sources have told NBC News.
The CIA has declined to confirm details. On Thursday, a spokesman tried to cast doubt on Assange's assertion.
“As we’ve said previously, Julian Assange is not exactly a bastion of truth and integrity," CIA spokesman Dean Boyd told NBC News. "Despite the efforts of Assange and his ilk, CIA continues to aggressively collect foreign intelligence overseas to protect America from terrorists, hostile nation states, and other adversaries.”
Asked about Assange's assertion that the CIA had lost control of its cyber arsenal, White House spokesman Sean Spicer didn't deny it, remarking that President Trump believes the CIA's technology is substandard and "needs to be updated."
Trump was scheduled to meet with the heads of the CIA and Department of Homeland Security later Thursday, and the WikiLeaks dump could be a topic.
U.S. Senator Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called Assange "an enemy of the American people and an ally to Vladimir Putin" who "has dedicated his life’s work to endangering innocent lives, abetting despots, and stoking a crisis of confidence in the West."
Assange has been living in the Ecuadorean embassy in London since 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faces a potential rape charge. He has refused to leave the building, saying he fears he would be extradited to the U.S. to face espionage charges. He spoke by video link and took questions through Twitter.